Arm founder bemoans "sad day" for British tech market as Japanese firm SoftBank makes play for chipmaker

Caitlin Morrison
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Arm provides the microchips for most of the world's smartphones (Source: Getty)

Arm Holdings founder Hermann Hauser has described the news that the chip manufacturer is likely to be sold to Japan's SoftBank as "very sad".

SoftBank has made a £24.3bn bid for Arm, which was spun out of Hauser's Acorn Computers in 1990. Hauser now runs Amadeus Capital Partners, which he co-founded in 1997.

"Arm is the proudest achievement of my life," he said today. "It's very sad to see it fall into foreign hands and it’s a sad day for British technology."

He warned that the deal was "not a good signal" of things to come, and described it as an "unintended consequence of Brexit".

Hauser said Arm, which he called "one of the most profitable companies in the UK", did not need to be sold - but said he wasn't surprised that it was considering a sale given the weakness in sterling over recent weeks - a view echoed by many analysts today.

"When there's a governmental shift and one of the fundamental parameters around a deal changes - in this case sterling - then it's not surprising that a company goes up for sale," Hauser commented.

Brexit not a factor

Arm boss Simon Segars, however, told City A.M. the deal had nothing to do with the recent EU referendum. Despite the fact that the discussions around the acquisition began after the vote and it took just two weeks to hammer out an offer, Segars said: "I don't think Brexit played a role at all."

He said the deal offers "a great combination of factors". While Arm was not actively looking to be bought, Segars said, SoftBank had approached the company with a "great investment proposal".

And, he said: "SoftBank was absolutely clear that they don't want to change what we do. They want to keep the management team and company structure, they don't want to change our culture."

Hauser acknowledged that the deal would likely go through regardless of his misgivings: "It's a good financial offer. SoftBank is a very good company and (boss) Masayoshi Son is a visionary."

In the short term, he continued, there will be few problems. "My worry is what happens over the next five to 10 years, when the big strategic decisions will be being made in Japan," said Hauser.

Growth prospects

And he told City A.M. that he believes Arm will not grow as fast as it could if it stayed independent. "I think its growth prospects as a British company would be better. SoftBank has a very high debt mountain and will need a lot of Arm cash to service its debt."

Segars brushed off concerns about SoftBank's financial position, and pointing to the group's "diverse" range of businesses, said he expects that Arm will "continue to invest as we have done in the past".

Meanwhile, Segars added that the company was happy with how the government had received the news of the takeover bid. Chancellor Philip Hammond said the offer showed that the country “has lost none of its allure to international investors” in the wake of the Brexit vote, while the Prime Minister spoke to SoftBank execs ahead of the offer being announced. A spokesperson for No 10 said the deal is "clearly a vote of confidence in Britain".

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