BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) looked like a prime takeover target last night after its co-chief executives abruptly quit because of poor sales.
Its shares fell 8 per cent on the news that Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were stepping down from the troubled Canadian company after two decades at the helm.
Investors were unimpressed by the decision to promote the chief operating officer Thorsten Heins, a little-known German, to chief executive.
Mr Heins admitted RIM needs to change: "We need to be more marketing-driven. We need to be more consumer-oriented because this is where a lot of our growth is coming from. That is essential in the US." RIM's stock-market value has now plunged almost 90 per cent since 2008 to C$8.33bn (£5.3bn) as it was eclipsed by rivals, notably iPhone maker Apple.
Analysts said one of the Asian technology giants such as Samsung, HTC or LG would be a front-runner to make a bid as the BlackBerry maker looks cheap. Amazon, the maker of the Kindle e-reader, could also be interested after RIM rebuffed an approach last summer. Microsoft and Nokia have been mooted as possible suitors. Those two companies have now formed a partnership together, making a bid for RIM from either of them appear less likely.
Investors believe there is still huge value in the mobile market and point to Google's decision last year to buy another troubled mobile company, Motorola, for $12.5bn (£8bn).
Some disgruntled RIM shareholders, including the activist investor Jaguar Financial Corp, have called for a sale of RIM as a whole or in parts – such as the handset business and network-services operation.
Mr Heins was adamant a break-up of the company is not on the agenda, saying: "I believe we have and will become a stronger company." But Will Draper, a telecoms analyst at Espirito Santo bank, said a takeover might be the best hope for RIM: "They really should be thinking of partnering or merging with another handset manufacturer."