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Prem Watsa: The Blackberry Savior

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Prem Watsa: The Blackberry Savior

Prem Watsa is the savior of the smartphone maker Blackberry.

Watsa is a 63-year-old who is behind the $4.7 billion Blackberry deal. Prem was born to a teacher mother in 1950 in Hyderabad. He completed his chemical engineering degree at IIT, Madras and pursued an MBA at the University of Western Ontario Business School (now known as Richard Ivey School of Business) in Canada. He left India with only $8 in his pocket and then moved to Canada where he built his multibillion dollar financial services and investment empire virtually from scratch. He was then dubbed the “Warren Buffett” of Canada. Prem Watsa now owns a business empire across the continents.

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After pursuing his MBA, he began as a first-degree entrepreneur by joining the obsolete Confederation Life Insurance Co in Toronto as a research analyst, then later on became one of the stock portfolio managers for pension clients. John Watson, his manager, influenced the way he handles his professional career. Watsa has also incorporated British-born American investor Benjamin Graham’s theories in his life.

The biggest boom of his career came in 1985 when he possessed a small Canadian trucking insurance company Markel Financial, which became the base of today’s Fairfax Financial Holdings.

The company experienced prosperity under his leadership.  Last year, the company’s gross premium increased to $7.2 billion from its $17 million earnings in 1985.  During his fist 15 years at the company, he seldom faces the media and only started holding conferences in 2001. That earned him a moniker “richest, savviest guy you’ve never heard of”.

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Fairfax already owns 10% of Blackberry. Recently, the smartphone maker announced it will make a $1 billion quarterly loss and slash 40% of its work force.

Prem Watsa, the chairman of Fairfax Financial, spoke out to defend his all-cash bid after BlackBerry shares tumbled 6% on Wednesday. Fairfax will have no penalty if it withdraws and will still receive $150 million if BlackBerry backs out.

“We’ve got a track record of 28 years of completing what we’ve done. We’ve never re-negotiated,” he said. “We thought long and hard before we offered $9 dollars a share and we’re not in the business of offering a number and at the last minute changing the figure. Over 28 years our reputation is stellar on that front. We just don’t do that.”

Watsa only ranked 102 on the Globe and Mail’s list of top Canadian earners, earning only $622,000 last year.

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