By Hugo Miller —
TORONTO — BlackBerry Ltd. said Monday it's considering putting itself up for sale, the strongest indication yet that the smartphone maker won't remain independent as competition erode sales and hammer its stock price.
A special board committee will consider options that can enhance BlackBerry's value and scale, including joint ventures, partnerships or a sale of the company, according to a statement Monday. JPMorgan Chase will serve as its financial adviser.
The announcement builds on a move last year when BlackBerry hired JPMorgan and RBC Capital Markets to advise the company on strategic alternatives. At the time, Heins said a sale wasn't the "main direction" he was considering. Since then, the new BlackBerry 10 lineup — the linchpin of its comeback plan — has seen lackluster demand. Sales of the Z10, the flagship phone introduced in January, missed analysts' estimates by almost a million units last quarter.
"Given the importance and strength of our technology, and the evolving industry and competitive landscape, we believe that now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives," board member Timothy Dattels, who will serve as the committee's chairman, said in the statement.
Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins will join Dattels and fellow board members Barbara Stymiest, Richard Lynch, Bert Nordberg. Fairfax Financial CEO Prem Watsa, whose firm is BlackBerry's largest shareholder, is stepping down from the board to avoid conflicts.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Torys will provide legal counsel as the board considers its options.
BlackBerry shares had climbed 5.7 percent on Aug. 9, the most recent trading day, after Reuters reported that the Waterloo, Ontario-based company is considering going private. Heins and the board are coming around to the idea that going private would give them the leeway to fix problems out of the public view, Reuters reported, citing unidentified sources.
The stock rose to $9.76 at the close in New York on Aug. 9. Shares of the company have lost 18 percent this year.
Before Heins became CEO in January 2012, the company held talks with private-equity firm Silver Lake Management about possibly going private, a person familiar with the discussions told Bloomberg News last year. The talks were preliminary and the two sides weren't able to agree on a potential valuation, the person said.
Silver Lake has had no meetings with BlackBerry in the past year, a person familiar with past discussions said last week.
Last month, Heins reiterated that the company was seeking partners to expand the footprint of its BlackBerry 10 operating system and help with its turnaround. After pioneering the smartphone market, the company has struggled to compete with Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. in recent years, dragging its market share down below 3 percent.
"We will do our homework and assess what we think is best for the company and then we will have discussions and they will either yield partnerships, alliances or not," Heins told shareholders in July at BlackBerry's annual meeting in Waterloo.