Prem Watsa – the founder, chairman and CEO of Fairfax Financial and one of Canada’s most prominent investors – gave his first-ever television interview to BNN Bloomberg on Friday in an exclusive, wide-ranging conversation.

He discussed everything from the investment landscape, to Canadian competitiveness, to his confidence in BlackBerry.

Here’s some of what he had to say:

CONTRARIAN INVESTING

“When you’re at the bottom, or close to the bottom … the market’s pessimistic on your company, then you have to be contrary and go against the crowd. But it’s basically trying to identify intrinsic value. You’re not contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. You have to figure out what the value is first.”

Amanda Lang: Watsa's bet on BlackBerry's Chen shows a relationship can make all the difference

BNN Bloomberg's Amanda Lang tells us her take on comments by Fairfax Financial's Prem Watsa he wouldn't have invested in BlackBerry if current CEO John Chen hadn't joined the company.

MACRO VIEW

“Our number-one goal at Fairfax in investing our money … protect it, make sure we don’t lose money. So if we see risks around, we’re careful to protect our portfolios. That’s what we saw in 2004 and 2005 with the real estate bubble in the United States, AAA-rated bonds. So we wanted to protect ourselves. We went right to 2008 until we had any problems. … Then what we saw was eight years of poor economic growth in the United States. So when you have poor economic growth – less than two per cent – lots of pent up demand takes place.”

TOYS ‘R’ US CANADA BID  

“[It was] our president, Paul Rivett, who identified that as a huge opportunity. That is an example of a company in the United States having a problem – a lot of debt in the U.S. –  but the Canadian company was terrific. So we were able to buy a company in Canada which is well-run, at a very good price, we thought.”

OPPORTUNITY IN INDIA

“The country that we really are excited about, which actually happens to be the country I emigrated from 46 years ago, is India. The possibilities in India are enormous, for big business, small business – all business. We’ve been there for 20 years, so we know a little about it.”

DOING BUSINESS IN CANADA

“Canada is a wonderful country. But we have to be careful because we have the United States as our partners next to us. And when they get very business-friendly policies, then by comparison, ours are less friendly. And so if we are [trying to attract] investment, then of course the investment could go to the United States as opposed to Canada. But we benefit from the fact that we are next to the U.S. If the U.S. does well, we do well.”

HOW INCUMBENTS VIEWED FAIRFAX IN ITS INFANCY

“It’s funny, [the incumbents] didn’t [try to trip us up]. We were 10 million in premiums  you could have squashed us. And that’s why I say there’s huge opportunity in Canada. And in whatever area you do [business in], you have to provide very good service, be focused, and look after the people you employ.”   

INVESTING IN BLACKBERRY

“The reason we put a lot of money in [BlackBerry] was because of [CEO] John Chen. John Chen is an outstanding executive — long track record. And I met him just like that in San Francisco. And he had a terrific turnaround at a company called Sybase. And then he says, you know, I bought every BlackBerry that existed and I really don’t want this company to go down. So I said, would you look at perhaps joining the company, and he said, ‘I’ve got to talk to my wife. If she says yes, I will.’ And she said yes and he joined us. If he hadn’t come, we likely wouldn’t have put [in] any money.”

INVESTMENT REGRETS

“Tons of them… but we learn from them. We try to figure out what the mistakes were. But it’s a fascinating business because there’s no right answer.”

WHAT MOTIVATES HIM

“What motivates me is to build a good company – a good Canadian company that will outlast me, located right here in Toronto. And I’m hoping in 100 years that this company will still be here, perhaps in the same office … That’s what we’re trying to build, a company that lasts for a long time. Good principles, good culture. Treat people well.”