A strategic partner is still a possibility. One idea is to team with Google Inc. to create a more secure version of Android that could tie into BlackBerry’s hard-to-hack servers. There is also a possibility that someone else, perhaps an Asian manufacturer such as Foxconn Technology Group or Lenovo Group Ltd., takes over the company’s sagging handset business.
Mr. Dattels’ contacts in Silicon Valley and Asia will be particularly key if such a transaction comes to fruition. Much of his career has been spent across the Pacific, and he is going back. For the moment, he and his wife Kristine live in San Francisco. TPG has just given him a new job as co-head of Asian operations, meaning a move to Hong Kong.
‘Great national pride’
Hong Kong will mean a much longer flight to one of Mr. Dattels’ favourite places, a home in Whistler where friends say he decamps for weeks at a time to work and ski. That’s just one of the tight ties to Canada that he maintains, as a quiet supporter of the country’s sports and culture, backing internationally known athletes and artists.
It was at Whistler, after the 2010 Olympics, that he met top national team skier Manuel Osborne-Paradis. Mr. Osborne-Paradis now wears the Dattels name on his shoulder, among corporate logos, after Mr. Dattels and his family became an individual sponsor.
Mr. Dattels is also a patron of Canadian photographic artist Edward Burtynsky, having come across his works years ago in a Paris gallery. Today, he is an executive producer of Mr. Burtynsky’s new film WaterMark.
So when BlackBerry ran into trouble, Mr. Dattels was distressed at the prospect of watching the downfall of one of the few Canadian companies that competes globally. In 2012, he joined the board, brought on by Ms. Stymiest and director Roger Martin, who heads an Ontario task force on competitiveness where Mr. Dattels also serves. Earlier this year, when BlackBerry struck a special committee to look at alternatives, including a sale, Mr. Dattels was chosen to run it.
“When this whole BlackBerry thing came about, what he told me is this is a great Canadian company, and if I can help, this is what I need to do,” said Mr. Osborne-Paradis, who speaks regularly with Mr. Dattels and often stays at his homes in Whistler and San Francisco. “He’s definitely got great national pride.”
The job of running the special committee made an already demanding lifestyle, in which Mr. Dattels travels much of the year, that much more straining. Yet Mr. Dattels is said to have waived the extra directors fees that usually go with the added work.
“How crazy his life has turned in the last couple weeks has been quite shocking,” Mr. Osborne-Paradis said. “I didn’t think his life could actually get any busier.”
Mr. Dattels is described by those who know him as always on, with a mind that skips from topic to topic. No matter where he is, a call to one of his multiple cellphones (BlackBerry included of course) is always answered, friends say. Time zones are no barrier.
Since leaving Canada, Mr. Dattels has spent most of his life straddling the Pacific. After finishing at Harvard, he set out in his car for California. Silicon Valley was hot and he had worked on some tech deals in a short stint working at Canadian brokerage firm Wood Gundy prior to attending Harvard.
He found a job at Sun Microsystems but liked making deals, so switched to investment banking. His first job was at tech-focused firm First Boston, and from there he moved to Goldman Sachs.
For a time he ran all of Goldman Sachs’s investment banking in Asia, excluding Japan. He worked directly for Hank Paulson, who headed Goldman before becoming U.S. Treasury secretary. Mr. Dattels also helped start the firm’s Menlo Park office in Silicon Valley. After that, he joined TPG, where he has quarterbacked some profitable Asian deals, including TPG’s investment in an Indonesian bank. There, he would have seen how dominant BlackBerry remains in some parts of Asia.