BOSTON — When he cut his buyout offer for Prime Computer Inc. at the eleventh hour, takeover specialist Bennett S. LeBow was driving a hard bargain. Maybe too hard.
On Friday, J.H. Whitney & Co., the nation's oldest venture capital firm, rode into battle as a "white knight" friendly to Prime's management in a deal valued at between $1.4 and $1.25 billion.
Would Whitney have jumped in if LeBow hadn't cut his price?
"I don't know," said Don E. Ackerman, a general partner in the New York City firm. "He dropped his offer at about the same time we were coming to grips with a decision, so we never had to think about it."
Wall Street professionals had fewer doubts.
"By playing cute, LeBow blew it," one arbitrager said flatly, speaking anonymously.
Whitney announced an agreement with Prime's board of directors to buy the company for cash and securities.
The value placed on the package by Wall Street analysts was roughly the same price that LeBow had initially offered last November, but at least $120 million more than the revised offer he made June 1.