The two billionaires -- Douglas Fregin, 52, and Mihal “Mike” Lazaridis, also 52 -- do not currently own BlackBerry, but the two co-founders are contemplating a bid for 92 percent of the company formerly known as Research in Motion, and have hired Goldman Sachs and Centerview Partners as advisers, according to a regulatory filing disclosed on Thursday.
Fregin and Lazaridis co-founded RIM in 1984, but Fregin retired from the company in 2007 after a stint as vice president of operations, and Lazaridis was ousted in January 2012 along with co-CEO Jim Balsillie. Both BlackBerry co-founders were not immediately available for comment.
The fate of BlackBerry is still up in the air, as the company is looking to sell itself after its failed rebranding effort in 2012 with the launch of the BlackBerry 10 system, which was a period also marked by massive layoffs and a major decline in smartphone sales. Despite BlackBerry making a hefty $100 million investment in developers, the release of the BlackBerry Z10 was a major disappointment, despite taking a leap of faith with a completely gesture-based operating system in BlackBerry 10.
Unable to right its own ship, BlackBerry in September signed a letter of intent with Fairfax Financial Holdings, one of its largest shareholders, to take the company private in a $4.7 billion deal, which would be worth $9 a share. That offer, however, is preliminary and subject to financing, among other conditions.
According to people familiar with the matter, Lazaridis has approached several big private investors, including the Carlyle Group and the Blackstone Group, but one of those sources told The New York Times that talks with at least one of those firms have since cooled off.
BlackBerry may also reach a deal to sell off some of the company; New York City-based Cerberus Capital Management, in particular, has reportedly pursued a nondisclosure agreement with BlackBerry to give it access to confidential data. Cerberus has a history with acquiring businesses in distress, having previously purchased General Motors’ finance arm in 2006 and Chrysler in 2007.
BlackBerry has experienced a dramatic decline in market share since 2007, when Apple debuted its first iPhone; more market share was gobbled up by the release of Google’s free and open Android operating system in 2008. BlackBerry has lost more than 95 percent of its market share since 1998; according to ComScore, BlackBerry’s market share of U.S. smartphones is about 4.3 percent, which is just ahead of Windows Phone at about 3 percent.