I doubt if SoftBank had launched its take over bid for ARM holdings today rather in the weeks following the referendum, it would have found life so easy.
Recent comments from Theresa May suggest that Britain will, for the first time in three decades, be prepared to intervene on behalf of long-term stakeholders (e.g. everyone but the traders).
Meanwhile, ARM’s employees and the companies that depend on ARM will have to hold their breath and hope that SoftBank’s promises are worth more than “the paper they are written on” (which Paul Myners doubts).
This morning we heard that the EU are going to twist the Irish Government’s arms to collect up to $19bn worth of back taxes from Apple. The Taoiseach will be in the happy position of getting a huge windfall for winning , and an Iphone for life if he wins!
But Ireland’s status as a corporate tax-haven for American companies looks challenged, and Britain looks the new Tiger economy, self-determining and self-confident. The question is “how much do we value British ownership?”.
Take Sage and L&G
I have dealings with two British companies of which we – as a nation- should be very proud. L&G is a great fund manager with a strong social purpose – it is an ok life company lacking much purpose. But together it is a challenger to its less upright competitors -BlackRock and State Street and (as Vanguard) it actually manages assets.
Sage is an amazing organisation that has vision and scope. It is a market leader for payroll and accountancy software and is increasingly moving into applications of its business model in education and (say it quietly) pensions. It is not just big in the UK , it is big all over, Sage North America is a challenger.
But how valued are these two great companies? Are Stephen Kelly and Nigel Wilson the household names they would be in other companies? I doubt that more than a handful of people for whom they are not CEO- know who they are?
We do not value our business leaders but worse- we do not value our businesses- until it is too late. When was the last time that we heard Big Government – Our PM and Chancellor – really banging the drum for British owned companies. I am not talking about trade delegations, I am talking about promoting the importance of these organisations to Britain’s economic progress and pride.
And what about succession?
An important point was made by a commentator on Wake up to Money. The reason we have no young pretenders to ARM’s crown, is that when a British start-up emerges from its chrysalis, it is not floating as a British company, it – typically – is part of the private equity of a fund manager’s portfolio or becomes a subsidiary of an overseas parent.
There is a fine line between nationalism and protectionism. I don’t claim that Britain has all the answers. But I strongly believe we should back ourselves as business leaders, owners and managers so that those who work within our organisations feel a sense of common social purpose.
We are succeeding from being a member of the EU to being Britain alone. We are stepping up to the plate- ready or not. The decision has been taken and though I doubt Nigel Wilson or Stephen Kelly welcomed the choice we made, they have been on the front foot ever since, talking up their companies and talking up Britain’s capacity to deliver great products and services to the world.
We jumped- now we must swim
Whether we know how to swim or not, Britain has jumped in at the deep end. We can flounder or we can apply ourselves to learning the rules of the pool.
I hope that ARM will not set a precedent for Sage and L&G. I hope that the next incubating ARM is in pupation and that behind it – many start ups – Pension PlayPen among them, are speaking with greater confidence. Britain should be a place that attracts overseas investment and I hope we see more Nissans and Hondas setting up and delivering. But I want us to have our own global businesses that we can admire and love as we admire our Olympic champions.
Being Great isn’t about being little Englanders, our greatness is largely about our diversity. When I walk the streets of London, Leeds or Slough I see a diverse nation and I see our prosperity being increased because our immigrant population – whether Eastern European, Caribbean, African or Asian, has the capacity to set up and succeed.
They jumped and they swam. So must the rest of us!