TORONTO, Cananda – Jim Balsillie once re-mortgaged his house to help build the BlackBerry company, but by the end of last year, the smartphone maker’s former co-CEO had cleaned out any shareholder stake he still owned.
A document filed with U.S. regulators shows that Balsillie, once the company’s third-largest stakeholder, no longer held shares in Research In Motion (TSX:BB) by Dec. 31 of last year.
Balsillie owned more than 26 million shares of the company at the end of 2011, according to filings obtained through DisclosureNet.com.
The documents don’t reveal how much he got for his stock, or when the shares were sold, but it illustrates how quickly Balsillie shed his stake in the company he was leading just months earlier.
The stock had a market value of just under $15 a share at the end of 2011, making Balsillie’s personal stake worth nearly $400 million at that time.
In January 2012, Balsillie resigned from the co-CEO position, alongside co-founder Mike Lazaridis. While both men took director roles at that time, Balsillie completely exited the company, formerly named Research In Motion, hardly two months later.
The two men pocketed a combined $12 million when they stepped down as co-CEOs.
Balsillie joined the former RIM in the early 1990s when it was a startup company with a mixed bag of sales hits and flops. He invested $250,000 of his own money by re-mortgaging his house, and within a few years, the company launched its first sales success, a clamshell wireless handheld pager that eventually evolved into the BlackBerry.
The enthusiastic co-CEO is credited for bringing the BlackBerry into the mainstream. He touted the device on Wall Street and handed it out for free at select technology conferences. Within several years, the smartphone had revolutionized how people communicated.
Balsillie is also blamed in part for the slow reaction to an onslaught of competitors, in particular Apple’s iPhone, and a series of network outages that bruised the company’s reputation.
Some analysts criticized his decision to pursue a National Hockey League team when the BlackBerry was facing some of its greatest challenges.
When Balsillie left the company last year, the BlackBerry maker was in the middle of the most uncertain period in its history.
The latest generation of the company’s smartphones had already been delayed, and there was concern from some analysts that the company might have to dig into its $2-billion cash reserve to survive the rest of 2012. While the company didn’t have to utilize its cash reserves at that time, its operations were in a state of flux.
Analysts had become concerned that the BlackBerry smartphone was quickly losing its already dwindling position on the consumer market, and criticized the company’s co-CEOs for doing little to help stop the bleeding.
Last July, Fairfax Financial Holdings (TSX:FFH) chairman and CEO Prem Watsa purchased more than 25 million shares in the BlackBerry company when the stock price was around $7. The transaction boosted his stake to 9.9 per cent, representing 51.9 million shares.
If Balsillie’s stake was sold at the same time that Watsa made the share purchase, the former co-CEO’s personal stake would’ve been worth less than $200 million.
BlackBerry stock had a lot of ups and downs last year, trading as high as $18.23 in January and as low as $6.10 in September.
Shares gained 88 cents to $14.88 Thursday afternoon on the Toronto Stock Exchange.