Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Mike Lynch to Oracle: Oh, You Mean Those Slides

Autonomy CEO founder Mike Lynch apparently took Oracle’s PR bait, challenging his memory of a meeting with Oracle at which he was said to be seeking a buyer for his company.

In a statement that seems not to have circulated as an official press release, but was emailed to a few U.K.-based tech journalists such as Chris Mellor at the Register, Lynch gives a more detailed account of the real reason for his “trip to SF” and his meeting in April with Oracle president Mark Hurd.

On one of my trips to SF (April 2011), Frank Quattrone, whom I have known for a long time, offered to introduce me to Mark Hurd. Oracle was a customer and I have never met him, so it was a good opportunity. Frank does this from time to time on my visits, he has introduced me to many people… NOTE: Frank was not engaged by Autonomy and there was no process running. The company was not for sale. I recall meeting with Mark and someone else I believe called Doug. At the start of the meeting they joked that Frank was there to sell them something. Frank and I made it clear that was not the case. We then met and had a lively discussion about database technologies. The meeting lasted approximately 30 mins. Frank is happy to confirm this.

Oracle’s corporate communications department, working unusually late, issued a retort that crossed the wires sometime after 1 am ET, calling Lynch’s statement “another whopper.”

It was no “lively discussion of database technologies,” Oracle says. Why bring two PowerPoint decks all devoted to Autonomy’s financial performance? Oracle, making good on last night’s implied threat to publish the decks, did so, and you can see them for yourself below.

Oracle published the slides in hope, it says, of restoring Lynch’s memory of a meeting he initially said never took place. “Yesterday, the Autonomy CEO did not remember having any meeting with Oracle,” the company said. “Today, he remembers the April meeting and inaccurately describes how it came about and what was discussed. Tomorrow, he will need to explain his slides.”

The kerfuffle is over Lynch’s defense of a comment Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made on a conference call with analysts last week. Asked about the current buzzword “unstructured data” and Oracle’s capabilities around it, Ellison engaged in his favorite hobby and took a jab at Hewlett-Packard — which last month said it would acquire Autonomy in a deal valued at $11.7 billion. “Autonomy was a shock to us. We looked at the price and thought it was absurdly high. We had no interest in making the Autonomy acquisition,” he said then.

He also went on to say that unstructured data can readily be added to Oracle’s existing database technology. “We think we’re much better off with a couple of smaller acquisitions and to continue to innovate in that area, so that the unstructured data and the structured data both find their way into an Oracle Database,” he said.

That, of course, didn’t sit well with Lynch, who has so far quietly endured criticism that HP is overpaying for Autonomy. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he denied that Autonomy was ever shopped to Oracle, and characterized Ellison’s understanding of the unstructured data problem as “very weak.”

Those, of course, were fighting words to Oracle, which decided to remind him of his April meeting with Hurd and Oracle’s M&A head Douglas Kehring.

It’s also helpful to remember that late last year Autonomy was being mentioned as the target of a bidding war between Oracle and Microsoft, according to a rumor-based story planted in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. Though such stories based on “takeover chatter” occur practically every day, someone with some skin in the game clearly wanted the markets to think Oracle was kicking Autonomy’s tires.

Lynch, of course, is really a proxy for HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman and Chairman Ray Lane, who have to get the Autonomy deal done and live with the price that former CEO Léo Apotheker agreed to pay for it. I asked Whitman about it last week, and she said “It is what it is.” The most interesting thing that has emerged from all this, however, is that Oracle claims to have considered Autonomy overpriced at a $6 billion valuation. HP paid almost twice that. Game on.

Autonomy Presentation 1 503341

Autonomy Presentation 2 503342


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald