Oracle grills Autonomy's Lynch over 'whopper'

Oracle's famously outspoken CEO Larry Ellison has accused Mike Lynch of 'lying' about his attempts to flog his company. Life's a lot easier when you have your autonomy.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 30 Sep 2011
Ellison claimed last week that Autonomy had been 'shopped' to Oracle – in other words that the firm was being actively marketed to prospective purchasers. Allegations that were denied by Autonomy founder Mike Lynch. Now Oracle has released a statement headed 'Another Whopper from Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch', insisting that a meeting which took place in April was effectively an attempt to flog the search software group, which he wound up selling in a controversial deal with Hewlett-Packard for £7bn.

In what is becoming quite an extraordinary public spat, Oracle has even published the PowerPoint slides which it reckons Autonomy used at the meeting, showing the company's stock price history, price earnings ratio and financial performance. The meeting was apparently also attended by legendary Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone, who Oracle describes as 'Silicon Valley's most famous shopper/seller of companies', and Oracle's M&A head, Douglas Kehring. All of which, if true, suggests Lynch was shopping his company about.

Is it us, or is this whole saga more fitting for the playground than the corporate sphere? Someone's telling porkies, clearly. In an aptly schoolboy detail, the slides were even labelled Oracle.com/PleaseBuyAutonomy. One key problem, in Oracle's mind, is that Autonomy's apparent £6bn asking price was 'absurdly high'. The other is Lynch's radically different point of view. 'Either Mr. Lynch has a very poor memory or he's lying.' said Ellison. 'Yesterday, the Autonomy CEO did not remember having any meeting with Oracle. Today, he remembers the April meeting and inaccurately describes how it came about and what was discussed. Tomorrow, he will need to explain his slides.'

Lynch has repeatedly claimed the meeting wasn't designed to market his company, and denies presenting the slides. That doesn't mean he's above launching a counter-attack in the Wall Street Journal, rejecting Mr Ellison's claims that Autonomy touted itself and was using the spat as a 'diversion from their poor positioning'.

We're not sure what's to be gained by Oracle's stirring. Although it does come at a time when Autonomy's deal with HP is catching a lot of flak. The sale was agreed last month, but HP's activist investors have been openly frustrated about it. It's even understood to be one of the major factors that led the HP board to sack chief executive Leo Apotheker last week.

As for Lynch, he must be thinking how much simpler life was when he was still winning plaudits for building his software empire. Things are much easier when you're on the up, and not having to deal with the politics of potential suitors. That said, he stands to land £500m from HP for his 8.7% share. So he's probably not complaining too much.

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