The technology stock boom produced some strange couplings, many of which are now unravelling almost as quickly as they were formed.
US energy giant Schlumberger’s £3.2 billion (EU5.1 billion) cash purchase of Anglo/French IT services supplier Sema in March 2001 was, perhaps, one of the most mystifying. Within a year, Schlumberger management realised they had made a dreadful mistake as the IT services sector tanked. And by January 2003 the subsidiary, since renamed SchlumbergerSema, was put up for sale.
The buyer, Franco/Dutch IT services group Atos Origin, has been reporting strong financial results of late, but even though drove a hard bargain. It seems that Schlumberger was so desperate to undo the Sema adoption that it was not only willing to sell it for some EU3.9 billion less than its original purchase price, but it will take about EU890 million of the EU1.3 billion transaction value in Atos Origin stock.
The addition of SchlumbergerSema will double Atos Origin’s size, creating a European services giant on a par with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, with annual revenues of about EU5 billion. But some are questioning its logic. IT services analyst Richard Holway, director of Ovum Holway, believes that, as a rule, services suppliers should not acquire companies more than half their own size. That is because of the difficulty, in such a labour intensive industry, of absorbing staff who will normally be used to a very different corporate culture.
Naturally, the management of Atos Origin disagree, pointing to the success of the combination of France’s Atos with Holland’s Origin back in 2000.
While the headline figure may not be as eye-catching, Informatica’s acquisition of UK-founded start-up Striva in the data management arena is nevertheless just as interesting.
The $62 million purchase price is estimated to be around ten times Striva’s annual revenues, which Silicon Valley-based Informatica believes it can increase to $20 million next year.
Founded in Uxbridge, London in 1998, Striva is a rare European technology start-up success story. It sourced $16.7 million in funding in Silicon Valley after finding nothing but closed doors in Europe. It then moved to Silicon Valley, where its hot technology soon became part of the sales stories of several key partners.
Striva specialises in the ‘E’ and ‘L’ of ETL – extraction, transformation and loading. Its software is typically used in data migration and data warehousing projects, often involving the pulling of data from legacy platforms.
“What we do is the grubby, dirty end of data management, but the bit that is mission critical,” says founder and CEO David Richmond.
The price, he says, reflects the fact that the presence of Striva software in pitches by its many partners became the ‘swinging factor’.
A recent example was when Informatica pitched for a major deal with carmaker DaimlerChrysler, only to find that two other Striva’s partners, IBM and Business Objects, were also touting the star-up’s software.
As a result of such support, Striva had been growing at between 200% and 300% a year, says Richmond.