Yesterday morning as Wi-LAN's share price fell 12 per cent, company chairman Hatim Zaghloul tried to keep the drop in perspective.
Wi-LAN's initial public offering in March, 1998, on the Alberta Stock Exchange came out at $2.50, so Dr. Zaghloul, an optimist, kept that IPO price in mind as Wi-LAN dipped to $25.55 in the first 3½ hours of trading.
The Calgary-based wireless technology company didn't report bad news yesterday but investors sold off Wi-LAN all the same. Its shares fell as low as $24.80 yesterday and finished on the Toronto Stock Exchange at $25.50, down $3.50 from Friday's close.
Dr. Zaghloul, who has a PhD in physics from the University of Calgary, has also witnessed frenzied buying in his company's shares.
In March, Wi-LAN spiked to a record high of $94 as investors speculated about its patented high-speed, wireless technology called orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM).
As its shares fluctuate, Wi-LAN and Cisco Systems have been battling to establish an industry standard for a market that does not yet exist.
So depending on your viewpoint, there's either a lot of hype or plenty of potential.
Last fall, Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., had been touted as a possible buyer of Wi-LAN, but the networking equipment leader ended up going its own way by joining a consortium to effectively compete against Wi-LAN's group. Founded in late 1999, others belonging to Wi-LAN's group include Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, Sony and Philips Semiconductors.
"We're not infringing on Cisco," Dr. Zaghloul said.
"We want to dominate the wireless, high-speed data market. There is no legal fight right now. However, it is looming."
He travelled last week to Tampa, Fla., for two days of talks about high-speed wireless standards with Wi-LAN's OFDM group. For impatient investors, talk is cheap, so that may have contributed to yesterday's selloff.
Dr. Zaghloul, who is also chief executive officer, acknowledges that Wi-LAN's rocketing stock price earlier this year didn't make sense. "The stock had a life of its own. It had nothing to do with performance or reality."
The Wi-LAN co-founder and his family own about 3.5 million shares, or roughly 14 per cent of Wi-LAN. At $94 a share, that would have made the holding worth $329-million. Add in his 2.3 million shares of Wi-LAN's Calgary-based sister company Cell-Loc, whose stock price peaked at $80 in March, and the value of the Zaghloul family's holdings in both companies would have exceeded $500-million at one point.
As of yesterday, however, their Wi-LAN stake fell to $90-million from a high of $329-million, while the family's Cell-Loc interest slumped to $33-million from $184-million. Cell-Loc, which develops technology to pinpoint a cellphone's location, slipped 90 cents to $14.35 yesterday on the TSE.
How does Dr. Zaghloul cope with such drops? "As an entrepreneur, I have a rosy picture of the world. I'm an optimist by nature," he said in an interview in his northeast Calgary office where he enjoys a full view of the downtown skyline.
Like Calgary energy financier Murray Edwards, who doesn't get elated when stock prices soar nor depressed when they plunge, Dr. Zaghloul said he's in his business for the long haul.
The company has had good news recently. Just last week, Dr. Zaghloul received an Alberta award that honoured his entrepreneurial success. Wi-LAN also snagged a contract last week to help build Alberta's Supernet -- bringing high-speed Internet services to residents across Alberta. Most of the Supernet will focus on fibre optics in the project led by Calgary-based Bell Intrigna, but Wi-LAN will be concentrating on providing wireless service to remote communities where it's too expensive to have traditional broadband access.
Wi-LAN (the name is derived from wireless local area network) has seen the technological future and it's wireless, Dr. Zaghloul said.
"As you lay the fibre and as you dig the roads, it's costly and it's disruptive. If there's a house at least every 100 yards, then it makes commercial sense. But if the houses are every two kilometres, it doesn't make sense."
With Ottawa also promising to introduce high-speed Internet services to rural Canada, Dr. Zaghloul hopes to parlay the Alberta contract into future deals in other provinces.
Wi-LAN shares are a speculative play, with investors betting on future performance but Dr. Zaghloul stresses that he considers his company to be a long-term investment.
"Anyone who's just buying Wi-LAN to flip it the next day -- I never told anyone to do that. It was never meant to be a short-term play." bjang