FEATURES

Hidden in the back pages of some major dailies, there was news that the third Samjhauta bomber was held in MP (16, Dec 2012). National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Rajender Choudhary, near Ujjain in MP. He has been named as one of the bombers in the supplementary charge sheet submitted by the agency. One recalls that in the blast in Samjhauta Express, way back in 2007, resulted in the death of 68 persons, including 43 Pakistanis. The investigation showed that there were four brief-case bomb planters, who allegedly acted on the instructions from RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra. Of these Sunil Joshi was later murdered. Many others’ from this camp, who are cooling their heels behind the bars in jails, are Swami Aseemanand and company. This series of blasts like Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer etc. were planned at times when religious conglomeration of Muslims at major festivals was there, so that the casualty is large.

The first striking point of this news is the under projection of the arrest. If we remember in earlier phase, when for the same incidents of blasts the innocent Muslim youth were arrested, there were banner headlines in all the news papers and anchors of TV channels were screaming to the highest pitch. In this projection the language press added all the necessary spices to highlight the religion of the arrested culprits. This was followed by the under reporting of the judgments, which found these Muslim youth innocent and then these youth were let off. Such news was again hidden in the back pages as small news items if at all. The pattern of media reporting showed a clear-cut bias in the nature of reporting.  Unfortunately the media pundits have also ignored this major phenomenon of the pattern of reporting in case of communal violence and terrorist violence. In case of communal violence the large section of media accepted the version from police or dominant prevalent versions in an uncritical manner. In case of terrorist violence the media reported events with the underlying theme as if all terrorists are Muslims.

The attitude of police also was on these patterns in both communal and terrorist types of violence. In terrorist violence the arrest of Muslim youth was done with striking regularity, till the motorcycle of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, an ex ABVP worker, was discovered by Hemant Karkare. Till that time the earlier chiefs of ATS in Maharashtra and other states where blasts took place, were playing it cool. In most these cases the involvement of those associated with RSS ideology was not given a serious thought. When in April 2006 the blast took place in Nanded in the house of RSS activist Rajkondavar. In front of the house there was a board of Bajrang Dal and the saffron flag was fluttering. There was enough evidence to take the investigation further, which might have led to arrest way back of those who are currently in jails. Since large section of police preferred to be guided by biases rather than professionalism, the investigation remained half way and the series of blasts kept taking place. To arrest the Hindus for acts of terror was an ‘unthinkable thought’ for most investigating officers. To highlight this in media was not might not have been thought appropriate by the media. The police and media, both, focused on the ‘thinkable thought’ and projected Muslims as the culprits. This thinkable thought was product of the US propaganda duly taken up by the National media. As per this ‘All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims’.

When Hemant Karkare decided to go ahead in a professional way, the path was not easy for him. He soon faced the political pressure from some sections. Bal Thackeray in his paper Saamna wrote, that we ‘spit on the face of Hemant Karkare, while Narendra Modi said that Hemant Karkare is Deshdrohi (Anti National). The death of Hemant Karkare was a big setback to the investigation of blast cases. But the path was paved for thinking on these lines which were unthinkable earlier. With confession of Swami Aseemanand in presence of a magistrate, which he later retracted, the evidence cam forth clearly on which Rajasthan ATS and now NIA and other police agencies may be working meticulously to bring out the truth of these blasts.

While the arrest of Muslim youth was going on recklessly, some social activists tried, in vain, to draw the attention of the state and investigating agencies, about the arrest of innocents. That the real culprits are being overlooked was the underlying statement. These social activists were ignored  till the people’s tribunal “Scapegoats and Holy Cows’ held in Hyderabad (August 2008) brought forward the truth for public and states’ attention to the tragic reality of blasts and the reality about the culprits who were getting away and the innocents were being arrested. Needless to say that due to such arrests, the social life and careers of those innocents who were arrested was ruined. Even now lot of questions persist; about Batla encounter and the alleged role of Azamgarh youth in the acts of terror. Some political leaders have been raising the issue but state so far has been very apathetic to the plight of Muslim youths and their families who have been implicated in this incident. Now some hope is being rekindled that these innocents may get justice as on one hand the professional attitude of NIA is nabbing the real culprits and hopefully will ensure that the guilty are punished by the court of law.

At the same time, though painfully late, the delegation led by Ram Vilas Paswan met the Prime Minister and submitted the memorandum on the issue. The Prime minister has promised that “The government will soon constitute a mechanism to stop arresting innocent youth, providing justice to them and their rehabilitation.” Dr. Singh also assured that he will talk to the Home Minister in this regard. One does not know how the state is planning to compensate the innocent youth, who have suffered immensely at the hands of the insensitive state machinery. Will Government gather courage to institute an inquiry into Batla encounter and bring forth the truth?

One presumes after the Nanded blast (April 2006), which was an accident in which the Bajrang Dal activists making the bombs were killed, had the investigation been taken to its logical conclusion many a blasts might have been prevented and many an innocent lives saved. That’s a conjecture, which sounds to be a strong possibility in the hindsight. Will this be a lesson to our concerned authorities to learn from and a pointer to adopt a more professional attitude in future?    

 

 

 

 
 

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

It will happen again

Chetan Shah
27-12.2012

HP’s Autonomy acquisition has spawned dozens of media reports investigating possible technical, financial and managerial reasons for the deal’s debacle ever since HP announced last month that it was treating $8.8 billion as money lost, out of the original price of $11 billion it paid.

Leading investor blogs, tech experts and financial papers in the US and the UK, where the acquirer and the target respectively belong, have discussed quite insightfully the micro issues of the deal.

But surprisingly no one seems to question what I call the soft issues of this deal - the people and the culture responsible for this loss. Who are the company executives empowered with such decision making? What drives them to decide in one way or the other while dealing with billions of dollars of people’s money? What about the globally awed financial institutions who bring these deals to the executives, advise whether to buy and how much to pay, and often lend their money to make things happen? How do accountants deal with tricky situations where they are expected to know the subject and report the truth?

My big ticket M&A experience is that when such deals are cooking, everyone involved loves the deal to go through and share in the glory and the excitement. Of course there are always a few boring old Board members and executives who question the price and/or the rationale of large acquisitions i.e. before the deals are closed. May be they are too conservative or they lack vision or they have nothing to gain from the deal. Or simply they are wise as seen in hindsight!

Since shareholders and decision makers are unwilling or too deeply conflicted to debate the uncomfortable fundamental issues such as (1) the cult of ‘wealth creation’ sans cash flows i.e. through enhancement of market capitalization, (2) compulsion for constant profit growth and (3) personal heroics targeted at job continuity and bonuses as a reward for the former two, I believe that American corporations will continue to lose billions of dollars on such deals.

Let’s look at some of these basic issues for the Autonomy acquisition.

Selling shares worth more than selling wares!

When HP acquired Autonomy for cash, the latter had a market value of $6.7 billion or just 61% of the price paid. Six months before the deal, its market value was approx. 50% of the deal value. In other words HP was paying almost double of what the stock market was valuing Autonomy before the beginning of the deal discussions with probable buyers such as HP and Oracle. By the way only a year ago Oracle described a price tag of $6 billion as outrageous as it walked off a possible purchase.

Path breaking moves require unusual means, so we will not delve in to the reasonability of Autonomy’s price tag, which was supported – as in any closed deal - by both the buyer and the seller and advisors on both the sides. We know that tech companies and other new age businesses are often acquired for several times their revenue or asset size and may be hundreds of times their cash flows or profit.

Few leading tech companies start in a garage like HP did in 1939. HP started as a remarkable instrumentation maker, which business, still solid, was spun off to create Agilent in 1999. On the way to its now shadowed greatness, HP did create billions of dollars in actual cash flow, leading to tangible wealth. Microsoft and Oracle continue to do so, even if they may not have retained a leading edge at all times.

But not every tech company, Autonomy included needs to generate actual cash to be worth billions. These latter companies create wealth by promising future growth to innovation-starved behemoths like HP and Microsoft, which constantly seek quick-fix solutions to keep their technology and market share sharp. These potential acquisition targets are valued on the stock market as well as in the buy-out market often on the hope that someone would eventually turn up to buy these at prices much higher than their visible cash over next 15-20 years!

This way Autonomy created its, in my view, ‘terminal’ wealth of $11 billion for its shareholder by selling out to HP. However, the wealth it could create by selling its wares was but a minute fraction of this amount that it created by selling shares.  Sadly, Autonomy itself achieved its over 50% compounded revenue growth from acquisitions rather than organic growth. To put it differently, the 1996 born Autonomy did not create any substantial cash box wealth…neither in its original avatar nor in the hands of its foster father HP!

Of course, we must exclude Autonomy’s co-founder Mike Lynch from this discussion of phoney wealth creation, as he pocketed a real $800 million from the sale.

The growth compulsion leading to loss of real wealth

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s HP was a different animal than what it has been in the hands of Carly Fiorina, CEO 1999-2005 and creator of HP-Compaq combination in 2001, and her successors.

Recognized by Wired magazine as the world’s first producer of mass produced PC, HP was the maker of the first hand held scientific calculator and the first inkjet and laser printers. However, these firsts stopped happening in the 1990s and that logically started the age of lacklustre growth desired to be remedied by numerous acquisitions. This was different from how Bill Hewlett explained the HP Way, “…the company exists to make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.”

In recent years HP has received the punishment for being a part of the tech world where high growth companies even with cash flow-untested business models are valued several times more than staid old companies with large but low growth cash flows.

HP reacted by being a serial acquirer chasing the growth of its more glorious peers. Interestingly, between 2002 and 2007, it made over 40 acquisitions (its lifetime score exceeds 110!) moving it away from hardware and imaging devices and more towards software and applications, but only a couple of these were multi-billion dollar deals. However since 2008, HP’s strategy changed visibly, pushing it to over 20 acquisitions, but with six deals worth a billion dollars or more, such as EDS, Palm, 3Com and Autonomy. 

With big acquisitions, came big write offs. While it received fame for writing down $8.8 billion on Autonomy acquisition, prior to doing so, in 2012 itself it wrote down $8 billion (i.e. 57% of the value) on its 2008 acquisition of Electronic Data System (EDS) for which it paid $13.9 billion! In 2010, it wrote off the 100% value of Palm, the PDA maker, which it bought in 2008 for $1.2 billion. 

Its lacklustre organic growth spiked by acquisitions has designed its share price chart in to a zigzag, oscillating from $20 in 2002 to a high of $54 in 2007, back to $25 in 2009, going up to $54 in 2010, finally succumbing to $12 post Autonomy.

In summary, every time HP bought a company worth over $10 billion, it lost more in market capitalization than the price of its target! Sadly the same high growth targets that created wealth for their selling shareholders could not repeat the act for HP.

By the way, Bill Hewlett also said, “We did not want to run a hire and fire operation…” Its CEO just announced that 27,000 or over 7% of its employees would be fired in 2012.

Analysts - top ranked, but not good enough

Over 20 tech analysts, including some top ranked, covered Autonomy, a listed company prior to its acquisition. However, the analyst community by and large could not or did not see that Autonomy’s revenue growth was to an extent supported by hardware sales, misrepresented as software sales. They did not see that much of such sales were not cash flow generating, but creative accounting made it look profitable by taking some direct expenses below the operating profit line. Further, billings to resellers were treated as revenue even if resellers could not push the products down to end customers literally requiring revenue reversal. Analysts did not spot that or the fact that invoices on long term contracts were treated as revenue while these should have been recorded as revenue deferred over the several year life of the contracts.

Only a couple of analysts ever recommended ‘sell’ or raised questions on Autonomy’s financials or business model. Daud Khan of JPMorgan Cazenove was one and he was reported to have been banned by Autonomy from analyst meetings for almost a year. On rare occasions, it was Mike Lynch, CEO, and not as usual company’s CFO, who emailed responses to accounting queries.

It would be quite a revelation to know the true answer to the question as to why over 90% of the analysts following the stock did not question or suspect Autonomy’s reported performance. There could be several answers, but pessimists might say that institutional investing and stock broking community makes money from stocks doing well, not by making stocks go bust!

Brittleness of the big institutions

HP management has accused Autonomy’s founder Mike Lynch of wrong doings. In the wake of this, Lynch’s opinion last month of his bankers and accountants to whom he must have paid millions of dollars in fees, and of HP management, who made him a billionaire as a result of the buy-out, was telling.

He said, “HP did due diligence on the same with hundreds of people involved and then ran the business for a year. You’d have to be pretty incompetent not to spot something like this for a year.”

Consider who he is talking about. On the face of it he is talking about KPMG, HP’s financial due diligence adviser, but indirectly he is also damning Perella Weinberg and Barclays – HP’s investment bankers, who blessed the deal at a value which relied seemingly unquestioningly on KPMG’s due diligence report.

On the other hand Meg Whitman has reported the case for a fraud investigation with SEC and the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, thereby blaming not only Autonomy’s management headed by Lynch, but also its auditor Deloitte and Frank Quattrone, the leading technology deal maker who presented Autonomy to be worth the price, as well as her own ex-CEO Apotheker. It will be silly for the five bulge bracket banks, which joined the party on Autonomy’s side, namely Goldman Sachs, UBS, Citibank, JPMorgan and Bank of America, to believe that they would remain untouched of the muck.

HP has now appointed PwC as forensic auditor to get to the root of the matter and report on the details of Autonomy’s misrepresentations.

This will not be the last time someone would question the validity of the practice of paying the deal makers largely for closed deals rather than for good advice irrespective of whether the deal closed. This will also not be the last time people would wonder what makes accountants fail to detect or become party to the most gigantic financial misrepresentations.

Perfect resumes, flawed wisdom

And finally the people, who are at the forefront of Autonomy deal. The brief biographies here are just by way of relevant examples, while the capitalism of quarterly financials and YOY stock values is certain to feature dozens of such resumes!

Autonomy’s founder Mike Lynch OBE, graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge in natural sciences and electrical sciences. Later he completed PhD in signal processing and communications research at the University of Cambridge and followed it up with a research fellowship in adaptive pattern recognition. The bright 1965 born engineer went on to design Lynex, the first ever sampler for the Atari ST, followed by the ADAS sampler for Atari and Mac. His innovations spanned audio products, computer based finger print recognition and IDOL, which enabled conceptual harnessing of unstructured data such as emails, images, audio and video data. In 2000, Time magazine called him one of the 25 most influential technology people in Europe.

An aging HP leadership team with 1953 born Leo Apotheker at the helm, in theory, could not have asked for a better resume to acquire and retain when buying out Autonomy.

Yet, in its last month’s announcement, HP squarely blamed Lynch and his management for financial misstatements concerning revenue growth and profitability as well as misrepresentation of the business mix, leading to $8.8 billion written off Autonomy’s value. He continues to be advisor to the British Prime Minister in the area of science policy.

Apotheker himself had a prominent 22 year career at SAP, rising to the position of its co-CEO before joining HP in 2010. A fluent speaker of five languages, his lifetime work at enterprise solutions made him the most qualified evaluator of Autonomy, dubbed ‘a global leader in infrastructure software for the enterprise’ in HP’s deal announcement of August 2011.

Yet, he failed to see through the holes in Autonomy’s business model and as a result lost his job to Meg Whitman (b. 1957). Whitman, a billionaire and among the richest women in the US, also sports top class academics -  BA in economics from Princeton University and MBA, Harvard Business School.

She is associated with big numbers – in 2007, she donated $30 million to Princeton University, spent $144 million of her own money in 2010 to unsuccessfully run for governor of California and bought Skype for $4.1 billion in 2005 for eBay, eventually to be sold at $2.75 billion in 2009 to the firm of Marc Andreessen (see below), a year after her departure from eBay.

However, her biggest achievement is leading eBay a $4 million revenue company in 1998 when she took over as CEO, to the revenues of $8 billion and over 15,000 employees in 10 years. With earlier stints at P&G and Hasbro’s Playschool division, she understood the marketing side of both brick and mortar and tech businesses.

Yet, as HP’s board member, she did vote in favour of buying Autonomy.

Marc Andreessen (b. 1971) is fittingly a star member of the board of HP, a company recognized as the symbolic founder of Silicon Valley. Just like Mike Lynch, he sold his software company Opsware to HP in 2007 for $1.6 billion (but no hiccups here) before joining the HP board.

Andreessen has a degree in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. While at the university, he co-authored Mosaic, the first widely used web browser, which led to his co-founding Netscape Communications Corp.

He also co-founded Andreessen Horowitz, a tech venture capital firm. Among his hugely successful investments are Facebook and eBay, where he is also a board member and Twitter, Groupon, LinkedIn and Zynga. He is a master at the game of innovating and spotting big time innovations that would later grow into real businesses worth billions of dollars in the IPO or the buy-out market. In 1999, MIT Technology Review named him one of the world’s top 100 innovators under the age of 35.

At age 24, his creation Netscape had a successful IPO and at 28 i.e. in 1999, he sold Netscape to AOL for $4.2 billion. In 2009, his firm acquired a majority stake in Skype for $2.75 billion and in less than two years Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion.

Yet when it came to one of the biggest investments in HP’s history, as director, Andreessen voted in favour of what would be called tech world’s biggest reported fraud, now investigated by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.

Finally, HP’s CFO Catherine Lesjak, holder of a degree in biology from Stanford University and MBA, University of California, Berkeley. One of the most powerful women executives in the US, she has been with HP for over 17 years and is in charge of HP’s finance, treasury, tax, controls and real estate. In the past she directly managed HP’s finances of enterprise solutions and software business units.

Yet when it came to advising her CEO and board on Autonomy’s finances, the storied CFO did not seem to have raised some obvious and pertinent questions.

What explains this galaxy of bright stars playing blind when it comes to investing shareholders’ money? Mind you – today’s stringent accounting standards requires write downs on almost every buyout, but Autonomy is hardly a case of underperforming business, a routine and acceptable phenomenon. It is a case of misrepresentation and fraud supposedly perpetrated by a brilliant techie Mike Lynch over a collection of even brighter stars consisting of a financial wizard, one of the world’s most successful innovators and investors and several grey haired corporate and financial services titans.

Well then, let’s wait until the next headline. But in the meantime, feel free to invest in high risk high reward takeover targets until things change, which seems unlikely in foreseeable future.

 

December 2012

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features