Leo tells it like it is on Blackberry
It was my lucky day on BNN Business News Network, and I wasn’t going to miss the chance to ask the “big question.”
When I got the agenda for today’s slot on BNN, it came with a gift. The 3:10pm interview would be a double-ender with Leo de Bever, CEO of Alberta Investment Management Co, which bills itself as Canada’s 5th largest private investor with $70 billion in assets between its 26 different pension plans. BNN producer Daniela Ozersky schedules a meaty interview guest every day at that time, but it isn’t always that we get a national newsmaker. With 12 or 13 hours of live TV to produce daily, BNN’s huge stable of guests get spread around based upon newsworthiness, availability and fit, as you’d expect. It wasn’t too long ago that you’d read about Mr. de Bever and the Fairfax/Blackberry LOI in this very space (see prior post “Confusion reigns over BlackBerry M&A process” Oct. 10-13). And now Catherine Murray and I were going to have the chance to interview him about his views about capital allocation in 2014.
During the course of the interview segment, Ms. Murray asked Mr. de Bever about his views on private equity pricing (too high) and technology as a place to invest (things change). When it came to me, I asked him if there ever really was a $9 Fairfax offer for Blackberry (BB:TSX, BBRY:Q). Having been rather dubious all along (see prior post “BlackBerry deal tests limits on M&A creativity” Sept. 24-13), how could one not ask someone who was actually “in the room” with Prem Watsa, so to speak?
At first, he smiled into the camera lens. Then, without missing a beat, Mr. de Bever acknowledged that AIMCo had “talked to Fairfax” and “some others”, but that what he “missed in all of this was a concrete business plan” for BlackBerry going forward. Mr. de Bever said “there was not a great deal of clarity from anyone who wanted to step in there about what should be done. It’s not an easy question, but obviously when I invest I want to make sure the strategy makes some sense.”
I tip my hat to any pension fund chief who answers a question as directly as that. And, since I’d speculated in this space a month before the BBRY/FFH deal formally fell apart that AIMCO had departed Fairfax’s would-be bidding syndicate and that it appeared the entire Fairfax effort was stuck in the mud, it was a wonderful coincidence that BNN viewers would get to hear the AIMCo element of my storyline confirmed by the man himself. Live.
To no one’s surprise, Mr. de Bever’s views were newsworthy, and were reported internationally by a Reuters Calgary journo 90 minutes later. The Globe and Mail also picked it up, and now Seeking Alpha is all over it.
Let no one say TV can’t get to the heart of a matter.