The mere mention of his name was all it took to spark a rare surge in Research In Motion Ltd. ’s stock price.
Stoked by rumours that legendary activist Carl Icahn was circling the BlackBerry-maker, RIM’s stock had its strongest rally in weeks. More than $1.2-billion of RIM stock traded in New York and Toronto on Tuesday, boosting the company’s stock 3.63 per cent to close at $23.15 on the Toronto Stock Exchange – down from an 8-per-cent spike at midday.
Investors appeared eager to bet that his reputation for rattling executives and directors might be the spark that RIM needs to address a tumultuous year of disappointing sales and product introductions. Some shareholders have pushed for management changes in recent months, but the company’s board has stood behind its senior executives.
New York-based Mr. Icahn has made billions for himself and investors by targeting some of North America’s largest corporate laggards over the past three decades and agitating for asset sales, takeovers or board changes. He is famous for launching stinging personal attacks on managers and their strategies and equating his cage-rattling tactics with the lofty ambition of “fighting tyranny.”
It was a takeover threat from Mr. Icahn that prompted the luxury Canadian hotel chain Fairmont Hotels to rush into a foreign merger in 2006. Motorola agreed in August to sell its mobility company to Google Inc. for $12.5-billion (U.S.) after months of prodding and pressure from Mr. Icahn.
If Mr. Icahn makes a move for RIM, he would be the second activist to push for change. The small Toronto merchant bank Jaguar Financial Corp. is acting for about nine institutional investors in Canada and the U.S. that have been pushing since June for new management at a company whose stock has lost two-thirds of its value this year.
“Everyone is very hopeful that Mr. Icahn is involved, he has a great track record for creating value” said Vic Alboini, Jaguar’s president. Mr. Alboini said his shareholder group currently holds nearly 5 per cent of RIM’s stock.
The group is questioning RIM’s unusual leadership structure, which divides chief executive officer duties between its founder Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, an early investor in the company. The two men exercise so much influence at the company that Mr. Alboini said there are concerns about the independence of the board of directors.
“This management team, in our humble and respectful view, controls the board,” he said.
A spokesperson for RIM did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Icahn could not be reached.
RIM’s stock price has tumbled 66 per cent from its February high of $68.92 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, reflecting investor disappointment with a slowdown in its core BlackBerry sales and the widely criticized launch of its PlayBook tablet.
Colin Gillis, a technology analyst with BCG Financial, said a contest with Mr. Icahn would be a “distracting brawl” for RIM at a time when it pushing to launch a new generation of smart phones with its powerful QNX operating system.
“Right now, management needs to focus on getting the QNX phones out the door,” he said.