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BlackBerry CEO focuses on a turnaround, but says he'd sell BBM for $19 billion

BlackBerry CEO focuses on a turnaround, but says he'd sell BBM for $19 billion

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john chen (disney)
john chen (disney)

There's some surprise news out of Barcelona today: BlackBerry CEO John Chen told CNBC that he'd be willing to sell the company's BBM chat service... for the right price. "If somebody comes to me with $19 billion I would definitely sell it," he told an interviewer on air. "I mean, I would recommend to the board to take it."

Maybe that isn't much of a surprise after all, considering BlackBerry has a market capitalization of roughly $5.5 billion. Of course, anyone comparing BBM to WhatsApp ought to have their head examined. BlackBerry's messaging client — unlike Facebook's latest acquisition — isn't a growth business, and it has less than 20 percent the active users of WhatsApp.

But Chen has other plans to turn Blackberry around other than waiting for a fantasy offer for BBM. In an extensive profile from The Globe and Mail, Chen has reiterated many of the turnaround plans he enumerated when he took over last year. Namely, that means instilling confidence in consumers and investors that the company isn't going to run out of cash (it won't, thanks to a recent $1.25 billion in funding), and a focus on enterprise, where the lion's share of the company's revenues come from.

"I think devices are still one component of the solution"

That latter point includes a few steps, one of which is mobile hardware. As Chen says "I think devices are still one component of the solution," though it's not clear how much longer that will be the case. In the meantime, that means making devices that make enterprise customers happy, and we've seen the first step in that process today at Mobile World Congress 2014 (MWC), where the company announced a new keyboard-equipped BlackBerry 10 device with the well-known menu, back, send, and end keys of old, as well as a trackpad.

Another part of the focus on enterprise will manifest itself in advancing its mobile security solutions for large businesses by integrating certain industry-specific tools on the server side alongside BlackBerry's legendary email and chat services. Details aren't available in the Globe and Mail article, but it's clear that Chen sees a market in industries like health care, banking, and insurance, where security is a particular concern. Outside of enterprise, Chen plans to invest and grow BBM and QNX, the company's operating system for embedded commercial solutions.

In all, BlackBerry still has a big hole to dig out of, and it seems Chen is well aware of that — even if he has a positive outlook. As he tells The Globe and Mail, "If this could be done, it would put a statement in the world. I think it’s a pretty big deal if we could save BlackBerry."