By BUTCH WITT
The embattled smartphone maker Blackberry may have received a lifeline from an unlikely source. For weeks, Blackberry shareholders and consumers have been questioning the validity of a noncommittal and relatively lackluster bid to take Blackberry private by former director and current 10-percent owner Prem Watsa.
Late on Tuesday evening Blackberry’s creative director Alicia Keys announced a bid to purchase the troubled former tech giant for $12 per share. The bid is 30-percent above Watsa’s and it may have other advantages for the ailing former tech giant.
“This company will be hipper and ‘badder’ than it ever was before.”
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Although details of the bid have yet to be formally released, Keys told sources that – unlike the Watsa bid – her bid has funding and is conditioned only upon a four-week due diligence period. Keys also reportedly said that financing for her bid comes from unnamed sources in the “urban hip hop community.” Some observers believe that rap star and producer Jay-Z, who is known to be an avid Blackberry user, will be providing a portion of the cash for the deal.
Enticing for Blackberry enthusiasts is Keys’ promise to revive the struggling phone maker rather than split it up for sale. “This company will be hipper and ‘badder’ than it ever was before,” she said.
Apparently, Keys saw an opportunity in the course of her duties as creative director to improve on the long-suffering Blackberry’s performance among urban youth. “I saw a lot of poor decisions being made with regard to design and the overall image of the brand,” she said. “There is so much opportunity in so many communities that have been turned off by Blackberry’s vanilla, and, excuse me, pasty white image,” she added.
If the bidding process for the sad, self-immolating former tech titan were not dramatic enough, Keys threw in a bit of racial politics by dismissing rival bidder Watsa as a “crusty, old white dude.” Watsa, who is actually Indian by birth, has not commented on either Keys’ bid or her racially charged comments.
The Keys bid represents a very late victory for former Blackberry’s U.S. marketing manager Richard Piasentin, whose decision to bring on Keys as creative director in January 2013 was ridiculed by many. “I am happy that Ms. Keys may prove to be so valuable to Blackberry even if it was not the way I originally envisioned,” Piasentin said via telephone.
“We have been fearing the worst, but in the back of my mind I think I knew that someone, maybe even Alicia [Keys] would come through.”
A source close to Keys said that she believes that phones with more dramatic color schemes – such as zebra prints and luminescent orange – will appeal to the youth market. Indeed, a broad range of enticing colors could offer the bleeding pariah of the high tech industry the differentiation it has struggled for since releasing its OS 10 operating system, which observers say resembles the iPhone’s iOS but lacks its critical apps. Some credit multiple colors to saving Apple in the late-90s with its early iMac computers.
Kevin Michalick, the foremost blogger on Blackberry phones and company intrigue, seemed very pleased. “We have been fearing the worst, but in the back of my mind I think I knew that someone, maybe even Alicia [Keys] would come through,” he said.
Acting CEO Thorsten Heins was unavailable for comment.