It didn't have to be this way, RIM

Did management pass on possible acquisition talks?

By Motley Fool Pick of the Day Dec 23, 2011 12:47PM
Image: Arrow Down Red (© Kyu Oh/Photodisc/Getty)ByEvan Niu


There's really no way to sugarcoat it: Research In Motion (RIMM) is rapidly spiraling the drain toward irrelevance.


There are plenty of ways it could have avoided its current quandary, starting by taking the advice of shareholders and employees instead of allowing co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie to blindly charge ahead with their misaligned strategy. Reports are now surfacing that there could have been another outcome; it didn't have to be this way.


RIM: The new Palm
Reuters reports that (AMZN) has contemplated a merger and had even hired an investment bank to review the scenario, although the massive e-tailer never made a formal offer. One of the difficulties was arriving at a reasonable valuation for a company that has shed 77% of its value this year alone.


The report says the two companies are still mulling ways to take their relationship to the next level, but they're not ready to tie the knot. (Maybe swapping keys to each other's headquarters is a good stepping stone?) Making Amazon's music offerings available to BlackBerry users, presumably somehow incorporating RIM's new oddball BBM Music service, may be on the table.


As an Amazon shareholder, I have three initial feelings: I'm appalled, relieved, and thrilled. I'm appalled because this idea would be an absolute travesty for Amazon. Even though odds are Amazon is planning on getting into the smartphone game, merging with or buying RIM would be analogous to Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) purchase of Palm. It's about the best outcome for the company on deathwatch, but then what does the acquirer do with its expensive new pile of junk?


I'm relieved that this never proceeded beyond preliminary probing, and I'm absolutely thrilled Amazon never made a formal offer. Amazon is already creating aN Android ecosystem, one that its inevitable Kindle Phone is likely to tap into. If Amazon bought RIM, it would have to sort through RIM's mess while dealing with fragmentation and integration.


No, thank you.


Three's company
Separately, The Wall Street Journal says that Microsoft (MSFT) and Nokia (NOK) "flirted with the idea of making a joint bid" for RIM. (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, an MSN Money site.) The talks were supposedly informal and also didn't lead to any formal offer.


While I see little reason to buy RIM, this one at least has a little more credibility, even more than the Microkia rumors that pop up quarterly. That rumor makes no sense because Nokia does only hardware, and Microsoft is already forking over dollars for Nokia's hardware support of Windows Phone 7. RIM has something Microsoft could potentially want: a strong position in enterprise.


BlackBerry Enterprise Server is one of RIM's biggest selling points, and the pair has existing strategic partnerships. They recently got together to create a RIM-hosted BlackBerry enterprise cloud service that leverages Microsoft cloud-based Office 365. Microsoft and RIM also inked a deal to make Bing the default search provider for BlackBerrys.


This notion is still unlikely, but it looks like a dream compared to the Amazon idea.


'No, thanks, we're good.'
Both reports say that RIM has insisted to go it alone and wants to fix its own problems. The potential buyout talks have been called a "distraction" for management. Management doesn't want to sell or break up the company right now, and the board has told Lazaridis and Balsillie to set aside sale options for the time being. Balsillie wants to get its new (delayed) BlackBerry 10 lineup out the door first before coming back to the bargaining table with anyone.


Balsillie says practically everything is on the table with how to mend its woes, including even licensing its OS out to other hardware OEMs or allowing others to access its network for service fees. The board has been "reviewing" its absurd co-CEO and co-chairman structure, but that line is starting to get old.


Investors are clearly fed up with waiting. Shares were up by 10% earlier this week just on the pure hope that they may get rescued. They'll have to keep holding their breath for now, because I don't see any white knights on the horizon.


Fool contributorEvan Niuowns shares of, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of, Google, and Microsoft.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of, Google, and Microsoft and creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.



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