back to article 'Brit Bill Gates' defends his honour in open letter to HP board

Hewlett-Packard has slapped down former Autonomy boss Mike Lynch after he called for details of accounting charges made against him and for an explanation of what HP executives really knew. In an open letter to PC giant’s board, Lynch effectively accused HP of smearing him by releasing selected information to the media and he …


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  1. Anonymous Coward 101
    Thumb Down

    Occam's Razor Says...

    ...Autonomy was a decent business that was probably worth a small fraction of what HP paid for it. HP overpaid because of highly 'ambitious' accounting by Autonomy that they were too stupid to see through, even though bloggers have noted Autonomy's dodginess for years. The accounting shenanigans probably doesn't amount to fraud, and HP are just looking for an 'out' to cover for their stupidity.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Occam's Razor Says...

      Quite amusing that HP think the SFO will sort it out for them. UK based Torex went down through much more rampant accounting "irregularities" in 2006/2007, were reported in February of that year to the SFO, and the Serious Farce Office now hope to have the main perpetrators in court this coming March.

      On this basis, HP can expect their day in court sometime in 2018.

    2. nurn

      Re: Occam's Razor Says...

      Autonomy was never a "decent business" the whole thing consisted of smoke and mirrors and trying to calm down whichever disgruntled customer was shouting the loudest at the time. I am surprised it took this long for HP to realise though...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Occam's Razor Says...

        "the whole thing consisted of smoke and mirrors"

        What, like most B2B software houses? Never.

  2. K

    Lynch is no Gary McKinnon..

    Nope... This one has teeth to bite back! (Or rather several billion pounds worth of metaphorical teeth!).

    1. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: Lynch is no Gary McKinnon..

      He also doesn't have his mummy to fight for him.

  3. wondermouse

    The stakes are high?

    Are the stakes high in this case then?

    Just wondered as you restated this twice....

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: The stakes are high?

      I do think the stages are high.

      Did I tell you of the high stakes, here?

  4. Captain Underpants

    I like the idea that it's entirely Autonomy to blame and that in no way does HP's due diligence process (whether in-house or farmed out to a consultancy) have any blame to carry. Of course they'll claim that for legal purposes, but it's going to be interesting to see how they defend it.

  5. davefb

    obviously, it's not HP's fault

    after all, they haven't paid massively over the odds for other companies, then have to write down the value very quickly is it..

    Apart from EDS. Or Palm...

  6. Derezed

    Due diligence completed?

    Caveat Emptor.

    That is all.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Due diligence completed?

      You've not really got your head round the whole "fraud" thing, have you?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Due diligence completed?

        I think he has got his head round it.

        The whole point of due diligence is to check everything important - every major contract, the validity of prior years results, the assumptions underlying the financials, the quality of the receivables, and the deal pipeline. In a friendly takeover situation you have access to the information to check this.

        When you're spending (eleven) giga bucks on something, would you really treat the purchase with the sort of rigour as an Ebay transaction, and take the word of a seller that all is ship shape and Bristol fashion? I don't believe even the clowns of HP are that daft; What they are miffed at is that their own willingness to over-pay has made them a laughing stock.

        1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

          Re: Due diligence completed?

          HP did their due diligence, which hardly reflects well on their valuation and risk management processes. As a previous commentard mentioned, they also wrote down their purchases of EDS and 3Com. Still, we don't know enough to say that HP isn't out of line, so let the courts figure that out.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Due diligence completed?

          Well HP says they DID do their due diligence. They relied on audited accounts by Deloitte and then got KPMG to audit Deloitte and neither found anything untoward.

          So...either Deloitte and KPMG didn't find something obvious that they should have done or the problems were so well hidden they didn't find them on auditing. If it's the former the accountants are in the sticky stuff. If it's the latter then it's HP's fault for not digging deeper; I guess Meg reckons it's the former.

  7. Sean Kennedy

    Unimaginable corruption

    If you stop and think about this, in order for HP's claim of fraud to hold weight, the corruption would have encompassed thousands of vendors, customers and partners, or the auditors themselves.

    I find it extraordinary unlikely this team could have managed such a feat given all I know about them. It's far more likely HP's management team has a broken decision making process ( shock! horror! ), and are simply trying to save their jobs and, more importantly, their egos, by portioning blame elsewhere for their screw up.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unimaginable corruption

      "in order for HP's claim of fraud to hold weight, the corruption would have encompassed thousands of vendors, customers and partners, or the auditors themselves"

      With all due respect the first half of that is incorrect. And I should know, because I worked at a company where a major accounting fraud was perpetrated, causing it to collapse. A small number of people, probably around five to eight, can easily conduct an accounting based fraud, simply by mis-stating the revenues. Sometimes that's blatant, as in declaring a sale when you've not got one (although the perpetrators usually do so against a prospect that they hope to come good soon after). With software revenues particularly involving either income streams over time, or work streams over time against an up front payment you have to make a call when the revenues become a sale, and this in particular creates an opportunity for a more sophisticated fraud, by claiming revenues today for work that you will only do in the future, or claiming a future revenue stream as though it were earned when the contract were signed. Customers can't see any of this, and there's no reason for them to be involved. Suppliers wouldn't know enough (and software businesses usually don't have many suppliers compared to a manufacturing or retail business). The only people who should see enough to know are the auditors, and that that's why they are required by law. It helps if the company structure is complex, and if the finance team is under-manned and with high staff turnover (this means nobody outside the core "fraud team" stays long enough to see that the numbers are made up).

      Problem is that in my experience at a couple of different companies, the auditors will sign off all manner of dodgy things, rather than rock the boat with a major client. Enron, Worldcom, and other big bankruptices were mostly due to a fraud involving the over-statement of results - but both had no problem getting their accounts signed off until the fraud had escalated to the point that the entire company went under (hence Arthur Andersen's demise). And so it was for the company I worked at - accounts signed off by the auditors in May, and by December the wheels had come off. It wouldn't take much for the auditors to properly check the sales ledger against contracts in place (and verify with major customers), nor for them to validate booking of revenues where there's a timing element. I don't think that the major auditors are ever complicit in fraud deliberately - unfortunately they tend to be persuaded to overlook the signposts to fraud in order to protect their relationship. And even if the company does go belly up, the auditor will charge even more for helping the administrators and creditors, so the downside of a client bankruptcy is usually limited.

      1. Sean Kennedy

        Re: Unimaginable corruption

        Then they are a part of their con, albeit unwittingly. Which doesn't absolve them of guilt. Indeed, that it was implicit fraud based on their own incompetence should make it worse, in my opinion.

        My point was, however, that Autonomy can hardly be blamed if they got a clean bill of health prior to being sold. If the purchase was based on crap financials ( which I have no problems believing is the case here ), the only culpable party is the company making the purchase.

        I would *love* to see HP sue itself, but I suspect that wouldn't be good for the bottom line.

        1. El Limerino

          Re: Unimaginable corruption

          They absolutely can be blamed if they deliberately mis-stated their financial position. Even if the auditors missed it.

    2. El Limerino

      Re: Unimaginable corruption

      "in order for HP's claim of fraud to hold weight, the corruption would have encompassed thousands of vendors, customers and partners, or the auditors themselves"

      No, it doesn't. All it takes is for one or two people to record a regular sale while also having a side agreement with the customer that you will let them do a return or refund, or will buy an equivalent amount of the customer's product, etc. Repeat this enough times to make the number for the quarter, and you're there.

      This has happened enough times (3COM, Sunbeam, etc. etc.), especially when you have a domineering, aggressive CEO with a big ego who is willing to do anything to be seen as "the next Bill Gates" and maintain his or her ego.

      Sure, HP grossly over-valued Autonomy too, but that doesn't mean their charges of fraud are automatically wrong. Both things can be true at once.

  8. Simon Ward

    All this talk of due diligence (or the lack thereof)

    If there really *was* a failure in due diligence, and it sure as hell sounds like there was, then surely HP should be taking aim at KPMG and Toilette and Douche ...

    All that said, HP do have a fair amount of previous in the 'monumentally expensive fuckup' stakes (EDS and Palm, to name but two)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Purchase and destroy

    I worked for a US Nasdaq-listed company that's still around (just!) and they serially overpaid on a string of acquisitions. In each case my employer's inward-looking and insular management culture would then get to work destroying the new acquisition and rendering it close to worthless. I don't know if that's what happened with HP and Autonomy, but it's one explanation.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Popcorn anyone?

    I cannot make my mind up which party I dislike more, so am sitting on the fence and watching this one out.

    Unfortunately it will be the lawyers who are the real winners here.

    Ex-HP employee, and I have solid reasons for disliking Lynch.

    1. The Godfather

      Re: Popcorn anyone?

      Both are really somewhat unpleasant given events, editorials and comments. As some have said, this legal process will take some years to unravel and will cost a bloody fortune. As for Mr Lynch demanding information, my knowledge of legal process tells me he and his lawyers will see any plaintiff documents or evidence provided by HP in any claim made against him. To be honest, neither party will come out of this smelling other than like a sewage treatment plant. Let battle commence..!

  11. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    I don't understand...

    HP paid $11b

    They say the value was overstated by $5b

    HP are writing down $8.8b

    If that's how good they are at sums is it any wonder they got it wrong?

    I think we need a maths teacher icon, so whacko will will do for now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't understand...

      HP's maths isn't wrong; the $3bn-ish between the value overstatement and the total writedown is due to the sizeable reduction in the HP share price since the Autonomy acquisition. Presumably at least some of the cost of the acquisition was paid in the form of HP shares.

    2. Joseph Lord

      Re: I don't understand...

      I think they wrote down $5bn on Autonomy and another $3+bn on unrelated items in the same announcement.

  12. Master Rod

    HP - Unreal

    HP, what a sham of a company. They have the worst board on the planet. HP has become synonymous as a den of uneducated crooks, and thieves. We are out of the hardware business, and into the software business. Oops! Wrong. We are in the hardware business trying to build up the software business, but just bought the Palm phone business. Rats, we trashed Palm, the phone business, and bought a software business. Nuts, the software business is nothing but code on paper not worth much really. Hmmm, Did I say we still make crap hardware? I would love to run the company for one week. I can guarantee a roller coaster ride with excellent results.

    Master Rod

  13. TeeCee Gold badge

    'Brit Bill Gates'

    That's probably a bit unfair.

    As I recall, Bill made his billions from building a hugely successful company and not by chucking a startup together, cooking the books and then flogging it sharpish to a gullible third party.

    This isn't plain old success, this is Success 2.0.

    1. Herkybird

      Re: 'Brit Bill Gates'

      HP...."Due Diligence""....Mmmmm....Carly Fiorina....

  14. AngryDeveloper

    Worst purchase since TW bought AOL.

    "HP announced last week it would take an $8.8bn writedown on the 2011 $11bn cash purchase it made for Autonomy..."

    This is like buying a £200,000 house and finding out its only worth £40,000. This must be some sort of scam to avoid paying profits out to shareholders. Or the entire HP senior management board are completely incompetent.

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