So Blackberry Ltd. (BBRY) has formed an special committee to explore strategic options. Maybe they need an extra-special committee.
This morning BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY) announced these moves to extract shareholder value for its assets, saying it will look at joint ventures, partnerships, or a sale of the company. It has hired JPMorgan Chase & Co. as a financial advisor.
This should come as no surprise to those who watch Blackberry implode like Johnny Manziel at an NCAA-sanctioned promotional event. At one time, Blackberry had it all — fame, fortune, and a rocketing stock price. But along came iPhone and Android and the party was over.
Finding the right solutions will be no easy matter. Blackberry is a mess, as witnessed by its last miserable earnings call. Shares plummeted that day. This morning, shares are 5% on the news that the company is exploring options.
Since 2012, when Jim Basille and the old-guard of Blackberry left after a series bad quarters hammered the stock, Blackberry has been in re-build mode. The stock has bounced a little after the introduction of a new line of products, but then, the June 28 quarterly announcement put a hold on all the optimism.
It’s now clear to everybody — including the board and shareholders, now — that something more drastic needs to happen. What are the options? Call it the Motorola-fication of Blackberry. Motorola was split up in 2011, and its different units were spun out or sold. The handset business ended up going to Google, which has now taken that intellectual property and produced it’s new Moto X line of phones.
See a similar game plan for Blackberry. It’s going to have to find a large, global technology company that wants to more aggressively climb back into the wireless game. I would expect that the acquirer would have to focus on Blackberry’s good assets, which include a nice, spiffy brand (still), a solid new product and operating system, an outstanding enterprise communications network (Blackberry’s orginal differentiator was a proprietary e-mail communications infrastructure, which was always first-class for busieness users), intellectual property, and about 70 million or so users. In sum total, it’s a nice, scaleable wireless infrastrcuture with a business focus.
Let’s take a look at the options that are likely to come up.” Here’s how I rank the ideas:
1) Microsoft (MSFT). Microsoft has been eyeing Blackberry for many years. But Microsoft is never able to pull the trigger. Instead of a big acquistion, Microsoft opted instead for the partnership with Nokia (NOK) to produce a Windows phone. Most people would say the Nokia partnershp has been a big disappointment. But if Microsoft wants to take a different tack, it would buy Blackberry. Only one problem: Different operating system. Blackberry’s operating system may even have more credibility. So Microsoft would have to restart the OS by removing potentially the better operating system, replacing it with it’s own, and take the brand. Lots of challenges.
2) Nokia. See #2. Same idea. Same problems. Nokia has a partnership with Microsoft, but it needs to regain market share. By combining Nokia and Blackberry, you get close to 25% of the mobile phone handset market, according to Gartner. But you still have the OS problem.
3) Huawei. Makes a lot of sense. The large, Chinese telecommunications manufacturer would instantly gain global scale and credibility by buying the Blackberry brand. Think of this like Lenovo buying IBM’s laptop business in 2004. But you would have to think about the implications for the U.S. government, which is a heavy Blackberry user. They might block the deal.
4) HP (HPQ). Hmm. This is interesting. HP doesn’t really have a mobile play. The world is mobile. HP is in the middle of its own turnaround. Could HP CEO Meg Whitman decide to bust a mobile move and look at Blackberry as that entry point? Maybe, just maybe.
5) Google (GOOG). You have to put Google in there because they bought Motorola but I think that was enough for them.
6) A service provider like AT&T (T), Verizon (VZ), or T-Mobile USA (TMUS). Just trying to think outside of the box here. Blackberry is known for a unique e-mail communications system, right? It could be packaged as a special product for business users.
6) Apple (AAPL). Um. No. Just kidding.
7) Nobody. It’s too late. This seems a very possible outcome.. Jean-louis Gassee, venture capitalist and former tech enterpreneur, says it’s too late.
Looking at this list, the extra-special committee is going to have a lot of challenges, as there are obvious problems with each deal.