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.
You have to be kidding if you are hailing your moment in the sun as some sort of journalistic coup. For starters, you, by your past commentary, have a preconceived attitude about BBRY. With that in mind you asked a question and were so elated with the fact that the answer jibed with your attitude and, most likely, short position that you failed to ask any good follow up questions. For example:
1. Leo, who were the “others?”
2. Leo, do any of your pension funds invest in
3. Leo, do any of your funds hold any BBRY shares?
(none do, by the way)
4. Leo, were any of the “others” people from the
mobile device industry?
5. Leo, was Prem Watsa on or off the Board of
Directors at the time?
6. Leo, did you sign an NDA with BBRY or Fairfax,
such that Prem Watsa could divulge the BBRY
forward business plan?
Now, by your comments and other public statements made by those commenting on your BNN interview, the world thinks BBRY does not have a viable forward business plan. But, Mr. de Bever didn’t say that, did he? You and others have implied it.
The fact that you have tried to make so much hay of these rather vague and limited comments by Leo de Bever truly demonstrates either your vested interest as a short or your pour journalism skills.
Thx for stopping by. I’m not short BBRY, and have never been. I get a lot of heat from a few Blackberry shareholders, and I understand their frustration: http://www.markmcqueen.ca/2013/06/26/throwing-in-the-towel-on-my-rim-shares-part-2/#axzz2lOe8Fa82
Hey – I was once one of them.
As for my journalistic chops, I can assure you I won’t be quitting my day job for a spot with the Fourth Estate.
I’m sorry if the post sounded like crowing, but must disagree with one point: Mr. de Bever’s answer didn’t jibe with my “attitude” about the company, but with my previously-published analysis of the BBRY M&A process while it was still underway. If you think the writing sucks, or the analysis is skewed for trading purposes, you are welcome to delete me from your blogroll anytime.