Where does BlackBerry go from here?

A management shakeup and a $1 billion bond sale may portend a shift toward software services for corporations and away from signature devices.

By TheStreet.com Staff Nov 5, 2013 11:39AM
The new BlackBerry Q10 is displayed for a photograph in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 (© David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)By Chris NolterTheStreet.com logo

NEW YORK (TheStreetBlackBerry (BBRY) shares plummeted Monday as the mobile device and technology company said it would abandon an auction in favor of a sale of $1 billion of convertible debt to Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd and others.


Adding debt to the balance sheet was apparently not the solution investors desired, as shares of BlackBerry dropped $1.31, or nearly 17%, to $6.49 on Monday.


CEO Thorsten Heins will step down as BlackBerry officially concludes its strategic review. Software executive John Chen will become executive chairman and interim CEO.


The management change may indicate a shift in emphasis toward software and services for corporations and other large enterprises, and away from BlackBerry's signature devices.


Chen is a former chairman and CEO of Sybase. He took over the software company in the 1998 and developed its mobile business before selling the company to SAP for $5.8 billion in 2010.


Given the struggles of Blackberry's smartphone business, the Waterloo, Ontario, company could try to expand its relationships with corporate IT departments. The increased computing power of mobile phones and the competing operating systems that appear in the workplace have made wireless device management more difficult for corporations and government IT departments.


"Right now that's the great landgrab," said Gerald Granovsky of Moody's Investors Service of the bustling market for helping corporations and other large enterprises manage vast fleets of iPhones, Android devices and, decreasingly, BlackBerries.


The new capital may provide BlackBerry with funds to develop new lines of business, but it may also be a precursor to a breakup. BlackBerry's new management will have to think of the company in a world without BlackBerries.


"The value for BlackBerry is still managing that back end mobile communications suite," Granovsky said.


"Its not just the e-mail," Granovsky added. "They provide the device management solutions and applications management solutions to IT departments."


Smartphones have allowed companies to design applications for Google's (GOOG) Android operating system or Apple's (AAPL) iOS.


"You need to have much more of a managed system service for your IT folks," Granovsky said. Companies such as Mobile Iron, Good Technology, Citrix Systems, and Airwatch are pursuing enterprise mobility clients.


Ovum chief telecom analyst Jan Dawson said that wireless management services for large enterprises have drawn competitors from varied fields, including technology companies such as Accenture and IBM (IBM), security outfits like Symantec and telecoms including Verizon Wireless and AT&T (T).


BlackBerry has a long background in providing services to large corporations because of its early success in the smartphone market.


Dawson noted that BlackBerry has expanded its services to include managing Android and iOS devices as they have grown in popularity. BlackBerry launched "secure work space" service for Android and Apple devices in June. "Instead of using the default e-mail and calendar apps on an iPhone, you go into this BlackBerry app that has its own set of applications for e-mail, calendar and so on," he said.


Secure workspace is a "container" or a sort of "phone within a phone," Dawson explained."Even if the iPhone itself isn't really secured or managed, that container is a secure space within the phone that can be managed by the enterprise through the BlackBerry server," he said.


The service is pretty basic today, Dawson said, but could be a platform to launch mobile applications for customer relationship management or other IT programs.


The company could also retool its BlackBerry Messenger into a service akin to LinkedIn (LNKD).


"The biggest challenge is they've got to make up this huge gap that's been left by these declining device sales," Dawson said. "It's not clear that any of those things is going to make up that gap any time soon even if they start investing in them right away and are aggressive."


Cowen analyst Timothy Arcuri suggested in a Monday note that the company will trade at a discount until it can formulate a new strategy, "potentially including the break-up and/or sale of parts of the company, given the significant number of reported suitors."


Kevin Smithen of Macquarie Capital wrote in a Monday note that BlackBerry's new notes, which pay 6% interest and convert to equity at $10, nearly a 30% premium to BlackBerry's prior close, "are not overly onerous and do not imply a major liquidity issue.


"We believe this is a bridge financing to an asset breakup, which could take a couple of [quarters] to materialize given its complexity and necessary regulatory approvals," Smithen suggested. "We view today's convert as biding time for this scenario."


BlackBerry's most recent strategic review may be a setup for a more decisive resolution.


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