You live and you learn: Mike Lynch

The Autonomy CEO and founder on forfeiting a career in academia, Suffolk locals and taking a hard line with employees.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

If I hadn't started Autonomy, I would probably have been an academic. I still give guest lectures at Cambridge. If I had stayed there, I'd probably have the keys to the wine cellar by now.

My granny was a good old socialist until her dying day. One of the great dilemmas of her later life was that I'd become 'the boss' and was therefore on the other side. But she made allowances for me.

I went to a good public school in a year when almost everyone was on a scholarship. The combination of brains and being streetwise meant that by the third year we ran the place. We also went on to excel at many of the things we chose in our careers: we had one murderer, one armed bank robber and a famous gay porn star.

Rural Suffolk, where I live, is a very different world - the locals have been having the same conversations for 300 years. They've heard of the internet - and know it has something to do with pornography.

I designed electronic synthesisers that were used by many of the bands of the 1980s. I couldn't afford one, so I designed and built one myself. I then sold the design, so many of the hit records of the time were done on machines I designed. Sadly, I don't get a sleeve note.

If people don't deliver, they're out. I tell employees from the beginning that being at Autonomy is like being a fighter pilot: it's great fun, but every so often you're going to vomit in the cockpit.

Academia can be too political. What's more, it's very easy to get out of touch. I've sat in a college common room where there was a conversation about banning private cars - and then you look at the participants and realise they only have to walk 20 feet to work each day.

My one regret is not learning to play the piano. I'm planning to live vicariously through my eldest daughter, who at the age of seven is looking as if she could make a very good jazz pianist and spend her life in bars with tumblers of whisky beside her while she plays the blues.

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