SAN FRANCISCO – The two new suitors pursuing Dell have a message for Wall Street: Don’t allow Michael Dell to hoard potential gains from the PC maker’s expansion into more profitable technology products and services.
Competing bidders Carl Icahn and the Blackstone Group LP are wooing Dell shareholders with an offer of a little more money today coupled with the possibility of even bigger returns if the struggling personal computer maker can pull off the turnaround envisioned by its CEO and founder, Michael Dell and a group of investors led by Silver Lake Partners.
The new bidders are also making a statement by proposing to maintain Dell Inc.’s status as a publicly traded company.
The long-awaited challenge to Michael Dell and Silver Lake began to unfold Monday with the announcement that Icahn, a billionaire investor with a long history of corporate confrontation, and Blackstone, a major buyout firm, had submitted separate alternatives in an attempt to scuttle a $24.4 billion sales agreement that has been in place since Feb. 5.
If completed, the original deal would end Dell’s 25-year history as a publicly traded company, leaving it entirely owned by Michael Dell, Silver Lake and a handful of other investors. The new bidders are taking advantage of a 45-day window that had been left open for better offers.
Although the details are still sketchy, both Icahn and Blackstone are offering to buy a portion of Dell Inc.’s outstanding stock at prices higher than the $13.65 per share that Michael Dell and Silver Lake have proposed to pay. Icahn is offering $15 per share for up to 58 percent of the company’s existing stock, and Blackstone would ante up more than $14.25 per share in cash or stock for an unspecified number of shares.
“We intend to work diligently with all three potential acquirers to ensure the best possible outcome for Dell shareholders, whichever transaction that may be,” said Alex Mandl, the chairman of a four-person board committee overseeing the sale of the Round Rock, Texas, company. For now, the committee is still recommending the deal put forth by Michael Dell and Silver Lake, though they are acknowledging the new offers could end up being more lucrative.
Dell’s stock gained 37 cents, or 2.6 percent, to close Monday at $14.51. The shares have been trading above $14 most of this month, signaling that most investors expected alternative bids to emerge.
Monday’s developments heighten the uncertainty surrounding Dell, the world’s third-largest PC maker behind Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lenovo Group. Dell’s cloudy future could rattle some corporate customers who may be more willing to do business with HP, Lenovo or other rivals. It also threatens to distract Dell’s 111,000 workers at a critical time.
The bidding battle also could culminate in the departure of Michael Dell, who founded the company bearing his name in 1984 while still a teenager attending the University of Texas.
In a statement, Dell’s special committee said Michael Dell is willing to work with other parties besides Silver Lake.
Getting Dell’s cooperation will be crucial for either Icahn or Blackstone if they hope to gain control of the company, predicted analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.
“It would be naive to move forward without Michael Dell,” Moorhead said. “He is the glue the keeps the place together.”
Other analysts fault Michael Dell for not reacting more swiftly to a computing shift unleashed by the 2007 introduction of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and the 2010 release of Apple’s iPad. Those products ushered in an era of powerful and elegantly designed mobile devices that are causing consumers and companies to spend less on PCs. The upheaval is crimping Dell’s earnings and has left its stock well below its price of $24 when Michael Dell returned for his second stint as CEO in early 2007.