Prem Watsa has a message for those skeptical of his ability to pull off a takeover of BlackBerry Ltd.: Don’t underestimate him.
The CEO of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. says his company has plenty of potential partners – so many that he believes the equity part of the $4.7-billion (U.S.) offer will be oversubscribed.
“We’ve got more than we need,” Mr. Watsa said in an interview Thursday. “We’ve got a lot of interest in it.”
Fairfax said on Monday that it had signed a “letter of intent” to pursue a takeover of the struggling smartphone maker. The proposed bid, which is subject to due diligence and financing, is for $9 a share. But the market is expressing doubt that the deal will happen at all. BlackBerry shares fell for the third successive day, closing at $7.95 in U.S. trading.
Mr. Watsa is now confronting those skeptics, staking his reputation on his pledge to put a final offer on the table in early November.“Our offer is a definite offer. We wouldn’t put our name to a deal with the board of directors of BlackBerry if it wasn’t a good offer.”
Some of the market’s doubt about the bid stems from the fact that Fairfax isn’t naming its partners in the consortium. But Mr. Watsa says there’s nothing unusual about that. Not all of the parties who are conducting due diligence with Fairfax will be part of the final bid.
Such was the case when Fairfax decided to invest in the moribund Bank of Ireland in 2011, providing it with badly-needed capital in the midst of its crisis. “In that case there were five of us that put money in the Bank of Ireland, but when we did due diligence, there might have been about eight,” Mr. Watsa said.
Ultimately Fairfax, Boston-based Fidelity Investments, New York-based WL Ross and Co., Los Angeles-based Capital Group and Beverly Hills-based real estate firm Kennedy Wilson teamed up to take a 35-per-cent stake in Ireland’s oldest bank.
“There were many partners that we had, that we liked, but some of them after their [due diligence] work didn’t feel comfortable, and some of them did,” Mr. Watsa said. “And that’s how it should be. Take your time, do the work. So you really don’t know who is going to be comfortable and who is not.”
BlackBerry has given Fairfax and its potential partners six weeks to complete the process and formalize their offer, during which time the group will be poring over the company’s private financial information and operations. A final offer is expected by Nov. 4.
Fairfax has promised its potential partners anonymity until the final bid is made to assure them that they will remain out of the limelight while they decide to what extent if any they each might participate. But Mr. Watsa says he has no doubt that the financing will be secured.
What separates this instance from the Bank of Ireland example – other than that this bid is for the entire company – is that Fairfax chose to make its intentions clear early on with a public letter of intent to make an offer.
Fairfax already owns 9.9 per cent of BlackBerry, and will be parlaying its stake into the bid. It doesn’t intend to contribute more cash to the deal, and Mr. Watsa says that’s because there will be sufficient equity from other players. Because the deal would be funded partly through debt, Fairfax’s equity stake in BlackBerry will rise above 10 per cent if the company is taken private.
Mr. Watsa intends to keep the company in one piece and says his strategy is long term.
“We’re not interested in splitting the company,” he said. “It is facing hard times, no question, but … once the company is taken private, we think it will become successful again. Not in three months or six months, over the years.”