ARM Holdings has just been sold to a Japanese business, SoftBank, in a huge deal worth some £24Billion and we have just lost another of our crown jewels or in this case the actual ‘jewel in the crown’ as this was perhaps currently our biggest technology asset. For those who may not know who they are, you will most certainly know some of the more important devices, such as the Apple iPhone, that uses one of their ‘chips’ as the ‘brain’ behind the sophisticated functions.
This is not the first time that we have lost something so precious to a foreign owner, as witnessed by virtually all of our better motor vehicles such as Bentley and Rolls-Royce and Jaguar among others, and will most certainly not be the last either – however the sheer speed at which the sale went through was also so much the more surprising given the introductory speech made by our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, pledging to protect our industry in the face of such takeovers only to then now say that Britain is still open for business pending or post Brexit.
ARM Holdings grew from humble beginnings out of a very small office in Cambridge some 26 years ago, and is akin to the story of the Bose Corporation in Boston, USA. This outstanding university city and home of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) was the perfect place to spawn innovation and technology, much the same as Cambridge, UK has its own world-famous university and resources to allow companies such as ARM Holdings to grow and prosper – but here the similarities end as Bose have since developed a suite of world-beating products and are still privately-owned whereas Arm did so much for Apple, yet did not seem have the same capability to produce and make their own devices, other than their ‘chips’, or remain independent.
We do not have much of a good track record with innovation and industry as evident with our own niche supplier Dyson. There I was so much in awe of the intrepid inventor James Dyson who not only came up with a world-beating product, but triumphed too despite rejection by those rival manufacturers only to then go and move production abroad and decimate my already shaky confidence in our desire to both control our own destiny and help our own industry and local employment. Unlike Cadbury’s where certain promises to maintain a main production capability in the UK have clearly been broken by their takeover by Kraft, it does seem for the moment that there should be little reason for SoftBank to relocate services and they have pledged to actually take on more staff – I just hope that this outlook remains the same in years to come.