Despite ax-wielding by new Research In Motion Ltd. (Nasdaq: RIMM) CEO Thorsten Heins to recover profits and market share, the BlackBerry maker as we know it, won't be around in a year, its biggest activist shareholder says.
Victor Alboini, whose Toronto-based fund firm, Jaguar Financial Corp., started buying into RIM last August and pulled in other investors such as Leon Cooperman's Omega Advisers, said he was encouraged by Heins's initial moves but wonders why he suddenly got religion.
Alboini spoke as RIM shares continued their surge after reporting an unexpected fourth-quarter loss Thursday, prompted in part by $621 million in charges Heins ordered in his first quarter as chief executive.
The stock rose more than 7 percent to close at $14.70 a share, up 97 cents. Alboini's Jaguar fund owns less than 5 percent of RIM, as does Cooperman's fund, filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show. Other funds are also known to have acquired stakes of less than 5 percent.
RIM 'In Play'
The company is in play, Alboini said, whether as an enterprise or for its technology, including thousands of patents used to support its BlackBerry family of smartphones. The are currently more than 77 million subscribers for the device, which is favored by businesses.
The Canadian investor said he hasn't spoken to Heins, 54, a former RIM chief operating officer elevated to the CEO post on Jan. 22. Alboini said he has talked to several members of the company's board, but he wouldn't identify them.
In an earnings conferce call Thursday, Heins indicated RIM is open to strategic options, including a sale.
Alboini also said he knows RIM's new chairman, Barbara Stymiest, a former Royal Bank of Canada vice president but hasn't spoken to her recently.
The dissident shareholder welcomed the departure of RIM co-founder and former co-CEO Jim Balsillie from the board, as the company announced Thursday. Alboini predicted that Balsillie's business partner and former co-CEO Mike Lazaridis will be gone in six months. Lazaridis, who remains the board's vice chairman, and Balsillie are still big shareholders of the Waterloo, Ontario, company they founded in 1984.
In another shake-up, RIM said Thursday that its chief technology officer, David Yach, is retiring and that operating chief Jim Rowan had left the company.
Core Of The Company
Alboini said he welcomed Heins's approach to partnerships, patent sales and other parts of an ongoing strategic review. He said RIM's operating-center technology and patents that support the BlackBerry network could prove the most valuable part of the company.
That technology might be valuable to a rival such as Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), whose iPhones hastened RIM's market-share collapse, or to enterprise-software companies including International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Germany's SAP AG (NYSE: SAP).
Also, if the company still hopes to make its PlayBook a force in the tablet market against the iPad, it might partner with South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co., he said.
Meanwhile, Alboini said, a solo bidder who offered $30 a share for the company would have to be heeded, considering its $20 book value and customer base. He said the Canadian government might rebuff an approach by a foreign bidder but considers that unlikely.
Alboini started buying RIM shares last August, when they were priced around $26.69.