Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Britain’s First Software Billionaire Now Reports to HP CEO Meg Whitman

Hewlett-Packard just announced that it had closed its acquisition of the British software firm Autonomy. This is the company that HP decided to acquire under previous CEO Léo Apotheker on Aug. 18 for $11.7 billion, the same day it said it planned to spin off its PC division and shut down its webOS business unit.

Rather than become an HP executive, Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch, who’s been described as Britain’s first software billionaire, will remain head of Autonomy, which HP will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary, though he will report to Whitman.

Of course, the deal didn’t get done without some drama — what does get done at HP without drama these days? First there was the shock at the price paid, which represented a 64 percent premium over Autonomy’s share price. It was just one of the things that led to a shareholder lawsuit against HP.

There were certainly enough questions about the deal to cause some speculation around the notion that HP might try to back out of it. Those ideas gained some currency when HP’s board of directors fired former CEO Léo Apotheker, but not before giving him a pricey exit package.

Then there was the Oracle shopping scandal. Asked about Oracle’s position in the unstructured data market two weeks ago, CEO Larry Ellison said that his company had passed on a chance to acquire Autonomy because the price was too high. Lynch, apparently falling into a PR trap laid by Oracle, took issue with Ellison, saying Autonomy had never been shopped to Oracle, prompting Oracle to publicly call Lynch a liar, then produce a set of PowerPoint slides as evidence. Lynch then went on to blame his eager banker, Frank Quattrone. Of course, it was widely known that Autonomy had been quietly shopped around for months.

So that little kerfuffle is over, now that HP is in control and its corporate communications team, led by Lynn Anderson, is in charge.

Meanwhile, there’s the larger mission to worry about: HP has to prove that Autonomy was worth all that money, and there’s an awful lot at stake. HP shares are still trading near their lowest levels in six years, and closed today at $22.20, down 25 cents. According to the disputed slides prepared by Qatalyst partners that were shared at one time or another with Oracle, Autonomy is expected to bring in $1.1 billion in revenue next year, which would amount to less than 1 percent of HP’s forward revenue projection for 2012 of $127 billion. It’s going to be tough to make it pay. But like it or not, HP is stuck with it now.

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