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BlackBerry interim boss in it for the long haul: Fairfax

A man walks by a Blackberry sign at the Blackberry campus in Waterloo, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
A man walks by a Blackberry sign at the Blackberry campus in Waterloo, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

By Laura Noonan

LONDON (Reuters) - The interim chief executive recently appointed to revamp mobile phone maker BlackBerry is in it "for the long haul", the company's largest shareholder Prem Watsa told Reuters.

Watsa earlier this year sought partners in a $4.7 billion bid to take BlackBerry private. But his company, Fairfax Financial, then opted for a lead role in a $1 billion note offering to provide the Canadian company with money to fund a turnaround.

John Chen, a turnaround specialist with Sybase in the late 1990s, was brought in as interim CEO.

"John's committed for the long haul, he's an exceptional leader, he's going to do very well," Watsa told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Toronto office, where he described BlackBerry as an iconic company that deserves to succeed.

BlackBerry virtually invented the idea of on-the-go email, but lost its stranglehold on the market as rivals brought out more consumer-friendly devices like Apple's iPhone and phones using Google's Android software.

BlackBerry's struggles before Chen took over on November 25 were well documented, and analysts had already described the changes Chen was making as going beyond what would be expected from an interim appointment.

"In any of my investments we always look at the leadership, in this case it's John Chen, he's an outstanding leader," Watsa said, adding that Chen had already made "some very significant changes" at BlackBerry.

Watsa said the injection of cash from the new note meant BlackBerry was well financed. "It's got lots of cash, it has a long runway for John to make sure that the company is successful," he said. "We take the long-term view, we don't worry about quarter by quarter."

"Companies are built over time, they're built by good people working together under the leadership of a very good leader."

The failure to press ahead with the $4.7 billion takeover could be seen as a black mark on the resume of Watsa, who was on the right side of the U.S. housing crash in 2007 and 2008 and also won big in Tokyo's 1990 market collapse.

"You never look back, you deal with the hand that you have, there's no use looking at whether you can get four aces or a flush, you deal with the hand that you have," he said.

"We think BlackBerry is an iconic company, an iconic brand, it's known worldwide ... it's a company that deserves to exist and with John Chen it will."

(Additional reporting by Janet Guttsman and Euan Rocha in Toronto; Reporting By Laura Noonan; Editing by David Evans)

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