Watsa rescues Black Beauty

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Watsa rescues Black Beauty

Black beauty has a knight in shining armour, even though he is a most unlikely one at that. We are talking about the beleaguered Blackberry and of Prem Watsa, the man who came in from nowhere to shore up the fortunes of Blackberry, once the most coveted of business phones.

By Sudha Menon

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Published: Sat 28 Sep 2013, 11:02 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:21 AM

Now that news is out that the Canada-based billionaire’s Fairfax Financial Holding will own the company, we are hopeful that the phone will find its way back into the must-have possessions of the busy businessman. Or anybody else who loved it and was disappointed when its fortunes nose-dived.

Those who know him or what little is known of him, will know that Watsa is the ultimate low-profile guy, the guy with no flash but with a lot of fire in him, to make things happen. What else could explain the fact that the young man, who left the small town near Hyderabad after a degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, with just $8 in his pocket, is today hailed as the Warren Buffet of Canada.

Watsa landed in Canada, where his brother lived, to study management and has steadily risen up in the ranks in the rarefied world of investments and financial services to become one of the top guns in the business. Many say he has modelled his life on that of Buffet and that he watches the latter’s every move, to learn from them. Maybe, maybe not. What is clear, however, is that his financial wisdom and grounding have come from the guru of value investing, Ben Graham. Financial analysts who have tracked his amazing growth over the decades say that he is the ultimate value investor, risk averse but betting for the long-term and making money from stocks where others see just unattractive bits of paper.

Watsa cut his teeth in the world of finances, picking up knowledge about investing during his decade-long stint at Confederation Life, a now defunct company. That was his big-break and he once said that as a rank outsider he only got the job because the three others who were shortlisted did not turn up for the interview.

That was a long time ago. In the years in between this painfully low-profile (for those trying to track him) man has gone on to become the dark horse which won many a tough race. He is now the name behind Fairfax Financial Holdings (fair, friendly, acquisitions) a financial conglomerate that has its network spread across various parts of the world.

Very little is known about Watsa’s personal fortune except that he is a billionaire several times over — it is not for nothing that he is called the ‘richest, savviest guy you’ve never heard of — but if he is splashing out $4.7 billion on acquiring Blackberry , it means he has seen a great value in the proposition.


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