The question is, though, is Chen right — and is BlackBerry stock in turn poised for a monster turnaround?
How John Chen Plans to Revive BBRY
While tech turnarounds are rare, they can be hugely lucrative. All you need to do is look at what Apple (AAPL) did in the mid-1990s with the return of Steve Jobs — which sent AAPL from $20 to as high as $700 — to know why investors are so enamored with the concept of a tech stock pulling itself out of the depths.
Sure, Chen is no Jobs, but then again … who is? But he still has a stellar background. Back in 1998, Chen took the helm of struggling database provider Sybase, who seemingly had little hope to fend for itself against a powerful Oracle (ORCL). However, Chen maneuvered the company to success by aggressively attacking enterprise mobile software — a tactic that helped Sybase jump from $35 million in market capitalization to a worth of nearly $5.8 billion when SAP (SAP) bought it out in 2010.
Now, Chen has established a convincing plan for BBRY, and has wasted little time putting it into effect since coming on board in November.
The strategy for BlackBerry: enterprise mobile technology. It has a massive market opportunity, and also is in its early stages. IDC data shows that 1.2 billion smartphones and tablets were shipped last year, 218 million of which were for business. That’s great, but it has been problematic for companies that need to provide for security, performance, access controls, compliance and analytics.
Such things certainly fall within BlackBerry’s core expertise. The company has advantages like mobile security, identity management, servers and integration with partners like Microsoft (MSFT). Meanwhile, BlackBerry still has its highly popular messaging service, BBM, which features 85 million monthly active users and recently was opened up for Apple iOS and Google’s (GOOG) Android. About 60% use it on a daily basis.
Then there is BlackBerry’s QNX operating system, which is used for non-smartphone systems such as cars. This platform could prove extremely valuable amid the emergence of the “Internet of things,” and Chen even calls QNX the “crown jewel” of BBRY.
To capitalize on the opportunity, Chen was smart to outsource device manufacturing to Foxconn. This will lessen the risk of inventory problems but also free up more resources to the development of new software.
Chen also has been working hard to streamline the operations of BBRY. BlackBerry hopes to wring out cost savings from changes in supply chain and procurement. Chen believes BBRY can get to cash-flow breakeven within a year.
And as far as resources go, BlackBerry still has $2.5 billion in cash and short-term investments.
But Chen thinks BBRY stock can thrive even without the handset business — and while that might be a painful thought for BlackBerry lovers, it’s true. A focus on software should mean higher margins and also the possibility of strong growth. Again, as companies leverage mobile, they will need enterprise software to manage the complexities.
All this isn’t to imply that Chen is a Pollyanna, and he himself said BlackBerry’s turnaround chances are “80/20,” but that’s still a very positive outlook with a reasonable basis behind it, when you consider BlackBerry assets such as BBM, QNX and enterprise mobile software and servers.
BlackBerry has a tough task ahead of it, but investors who have a little to lose and are looking for a high-reward turnaround play could do worse than BBRY.
For more on BlackBerry, check out the video below.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of High-Profit IPO Strategies, All About Commodities and All About Short Selling. Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.