Takeover stalks ailing BlackBerry

BLACKBERRY maker Research In Motion (RIM) looked like a prime takeover target last night after its co-chief executives abruptly quit because of poor sales.

Its shares fell as much as 7.8 per cent on the news that Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were stepping down from the troubled Canadian company after two decades at the helm.

Investors were unimpressed by the decision to promote the chief operating officer Thorsten Heins, a little-known German, to chief executive.

Mr Heins admitted RIM needs to change: "We need to be more marketing-driven. We need to be more consumer-oriented because this is where a lot of our growth is coming from. That is essential in the US."

RIM's stock-market value has now plunged almost 90 per cent since 2008 to 5.3bn pounds sterling as it was eclipsed by rivals, notably iPhone maker Apple.

Analysts said one of the Asian technology giants such as Samsung, HTC or LG would be a front-runner to make a bid as the BlackBerry owner looks cheap.

Amazon, the maker of the Kindle e-reader, could also be interested after RIM rebuffed an approach last summer.

Microsoft and Nokia have been mooted as possible suitors, but those two companies have now formed a partnership together, making a bid for RIM from either of them appear less likely.

Investors believe there is still huge value in the mobile market and point to Google's decision last year to buy another troubled mobile company, Motorola, for 8bn pounds sterling.

Some disgruntled RIM shareholders, including the activist investor Jaguar Financial Corp, have called for a sale of RIM as a whole or in parts - such as the handset business and network services operation.

Mr Heins was adamant a break-up of the company is not on the agenda, saying: "I believe, we have and will become a stronger company."

But Will Draper, a telecoms analyst at Espirito Santo bank, said a takeover might be the best hope for RIM.

"They really should be thinking of partnering or merging with another handset manufacturer," he said. "I see them as a little bit like Nokia in that they were in a position when they were dominating smartphones.

"They were synonymous with the mobile internet and mobile email and they've totally lost their way. Their technology has been superseded."

Mr Draper added: "There are so many problems with the design and the operating system. Those two things together require enormous investment - billions of dollars - to bring them back to parity with Apple and Google's Android and I think it's beyond them."

BlackBerry's patents and business customer base would be the main attractions, particularly for Asian bidders.

One analyst said: "RIM has nothing that Apple would want. I don't know if it has anything Amazon or Google want."

RIM, co-founded by Mr Lazaridis in 1984, launched BlackBerry in 1999 and it became so popular that it was dubbed the "CrackBerry".

But the Canadian firm struggled as consumers embraced more user-friendly touch-screens and apps.

Topics:  blackberry

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