An article in The Times yesterday that I couldn't quite believe and, for me, was symptomatic of the malaise of small-mindedness that is the mark of many UK technology investors.
Micro Focus' share price has risen from £3.30 to c. £22 in a little over 5 years. Last week Kevin Loosemore and the team pulled off one of the most audacious and potentially transformative acquisitions in the history of the UK software industry with the $8.8 billion acquisition of HP's software assets. An achievement made all the more remarkable as it was achieved despite Brexit and the resulting collapse in the value of sterling. Now - within days - attention has moved to how Kevin and the team were paid - or rather how much they will be paid going forward. Yes, £70m is a big number, but when viewed in the context of the value that has been created for investors, it is no more than one would expect. Indeed, most observers - and especially those in the US, would view that amount, shared amongst the top team, to be derisory.
If the UK really wants to achieve its stated aim to develop London into the biggest tech-hub outside of Silicon Valley then we are going to have to change the culture of investors. We should be celebrating the fact that a UK-based software company is about to give significant, and wholly justified, life-changing rewards to a bunch of Executives. Its good for all of us. It will attract talent into the sector, some of the recipients will perhaps reinvest some the proceeds into the UK tech sector as Business Angels. The profile of London on the World-stage will be greatly enhanced. Its a great way to be shouting 'LONDON IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS' at a time when the City of Berlin has opened up an office in London - to much fanfare - with the stated objective of stealing some of our brightest and best tech companies from right under our noses!
Creating the right conditions in the primordial soup is essential. Without it the tech sector here will never achieve its potential. A healthy attitude to the creation of value and of linking rewards to success is an essential part of the recipe.
The board of Micro Focus is under pressure to water down a potentially lucrative deal-based share scheme before its annual shareholder meeting next week. The information technology company’s top bosses could make tens of millions of pounds from the planned $8.8 billion acquisition of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s software business under the scheme being put to investors. Micro Focus said yesterday that it had looked again at its plans after discussions with Institutional Shareholder Services and the Institutional Voting Information Service, two proxy adviser firms, as well as unnamed shareholders. Under the amendments, the share grant will no longer vest in full automatically should Micro Focus itself be taken over but instead will take account of the company’s performance and the timing of the deal.