Fairfax’s Prem Watsa In Middle of RIM Shake-Up

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Prem Watsa, one of Canada’s best-known value investors, is bringing his accomplished track record to Research In Motion Ltd.’s new leadership team, becoming the BlackBerry maker’s newest director and one of its biggest shareholders..

Prem Watsa, chief executive of Canadian investment giant Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., is often called Canada’s version of Warren Buffett. Over the years, he has focused on beaten-up stocks—including at times, his own—and has long explained his choices in plainly written annual reports.

As head of Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel Ltd., Mr. Watsa owns about 11.8 million RIM shares, or a 2.3% stake, as of the end of September, according to FactSet Research. That makes the money manager the fourth-largest shareholder after RIM’s former chief executives Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, who each own about 5.1%, and Primecap Management Co., a U.S. money management firm, which holds a 5.5% stake.

Messrs. Balsillie and Lazaridis stepped down from their executive roles late Sunday. RIM elevated former chief operating officer Thorsten Heins as chief executive. Barbara Stymiest, a RIM director since 2007, takes over as RIM’s new non-executive chair.

Mr. Heins has said he isn’t planning any big strategic changes at RIM, counting on the roll-out of a new operating system later this year to reverse the company’s fortunes. RIM shares have fallen more than 70% since the start of 2011 and recently have been trading under book value.

On Monday, investors largely panned the leadership changes and Mr. Heins’ stay-the-course strategy. RIM shares were down as much as 7% in midday trading Monday.

That leaves Prem Watsa as a possible agent of change at the company, though he appears to be backing Mr. Heins’ strategy so far.


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