The letters of intent have been signed —
Canadian firm Fairfax Financial has offered to buy BlackBerry for $US9 a shareand take the company private.
That means the BlackBerry is now in the hands of Prem Watsa, a man known as the ‘Warren Buffett of Canada.’
Watsa has been Chairman and CEO of Fairfax Holdings since he founded the company in 1985, and he controls half the voting rights of the company. That likely means he’s amassed a great fortune — reports put it in the billions — but it’s hard to pin down exactly how many billions because, as the Toronto Star put it in a 2009 profile, Watsa is “the richest, savviest guy you’ve never heard of.”
In short: Watsa does not care for fame.
Unfortunately for him, his story and track record are attention grabbers. Watsa was born in Hyderabad, India in 1950 and was orphaned as a boy. He shined in school despite his misfortune, and ended up studying chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. For business school he emigrated to Canada (with $US8 in his pocket, say some reports) and attended the University of Western Ontario.
When the time came, Watsa modelled his holding company after Warren Buffett’s. He’s a die-hard value investor and one of his kids is named after famed value man Ben Graham.
After founding Fairfax Watsa’s own legend grew. He predicted the 1987 crash, Japan’s crash in the 1990s, and the most recent global financial crisis — though he may have been a little early on that one (from the Financial Post):
In 2007, Fairfax, Canada’s largest property and casualty insurer, posted profits of US$1.095-billion compared with US$227.5-million in 2006. In 2008, as more bad news hit markets everywhere, Fairfax’s profit soared to US$631.8-million in the first quarter.
Good stuff, but Watsa’s still come up against some major headwinds in his career, and one of them has a name — Dan Loeb.
Back in 2006 a bunch of hedge funds were shorting Fairfax — Jim Chanos’ Kynikos, Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital, and Loeb’s Third Point. Loeb was especially graphic about his feelings on Watsa in e-mails, and when Fairfax sued this group of hedge fund managers, Loeb’s comments were made public.
Check this one out, from Reuters:
“Prem Watsa bend over the hedge funds have something special for you,” Loeb wrote in the June 25, 2006 email to Adam Sender, the founder of Exis Capital, whose hedge fund also was “shorting” Fairfax — that is, looking to profit from a decline in its shares. A little later that day, in an email to a consultant who was doing research for some of the hedge funds wagering on Fairfax’s fall, Loeb wrote: “die, Prem Die!”
Not the most professional thing to say about a fellow CEO, but it’s more than likely Watsa’s shaken off by now.
With BlackBerry, he has bigger fish to fry.
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