Mike Lynch: Man on a mission

Mike Lynch has emerged in fine form from the furore surrounding HP's £6.7 billion purchase of Autonomy, the firm he founded in Cambridge some 15 years ago.

The late summer announcement that Britain's biggest software company would lose its independence was wrapped up in a range of other announcements that were meant to fundamentally reposition HP for the next decade.

But instead of acclaiming the Autonomy acquisition, HP customers and shareholders reacted with bewilderment and sometimes fury to the US giant's wider plans to reinvent itself as a software company.

Autonomy shareholders didn't seem that enthusiastic about the deal either. Indeed, HP was forced to extend the deadline for the takeover bid to be accepted when fewer than half of shareholders voted in favour at the first closing date in September.

The potential benefits of bringing Autonomy under the wing of HP were obscured by the reaction to plans to spin off HP's PC business and to leave the webOS tablet business just six months after delivering its first product, signing the death certificate for its TouchPad tablets and smartphones.

While Lynch's shareholders were considering their future, HP CEO Léo Apotheker, who had signed the Autonomy deal, was sacked and replaced by former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, after less than a year in the job.

Now the dust has settled Lynch, with £500million to his name, has emerged unscathed, enthusiastic about his future with HP and about his ability to maintain his autonomy and the company's independence from interference from across the pond.

Unscathed, but not unchanged. The presence of a PR minder in his first major interview since the acquisition indicates that Lynch is not quite the man he used to be. Although his PR minder insists her joining Autonomy around the time of the HP acquisition was just a coincidence, it was certainly different to two years ago, when Computerworld UK's sister title CIO Magazine interviewed him free of any corporate entourage.

Yet despite this, Lynch has retained many of his more admirable qualities. Although clearly busy, rushing from one interview room to another at the company's plush offices just off London's Pall Mall, he is far from arrogant and is still not afraid to voice his opinions.

Probably because he is determined to keep the firm operating, true to its name, autonomously from the new parent company.

"The way the culture of Autonomy is being maintained is it is being kept separated [from HP]," says Lynch.

And if ever HP feels the need to interfere, no matter how well-meaning its intentions, Lynch says a 'bat phone' gives him direct access to the person he needs to talk to in order to ward off the attention.

Lynch is, inevitably keen to reiterate the logic behind the merger with HP. The message got lost, he believes, in the simultaneous announcements that then-CEO of HP Léo Apotheker made and in his subsequent dismissal.

What should have been communicated, says Lynch, is that the acquisition marks a new future for Autonomy, where it now has access to hardware and services it did not have before.

"It is about the power of Autonomy with everything else. It's not Autonomy on its own," Lynch says, insisting that Autonomy can both operate separately and collaborate with HP on products and services at the same time.

Autonomy provides enterprise search technology that it claims uses 'meaning-based computing' to sort, make sense and make use of the growing amount of unstructured – or as Lynch calls it, "human-friendly" – data, such as emails, videos and images.

The company says its technology is the only one that can do this, and that other companies claiming to be able to do the same are talking instead about traditional unstructured machine data, such as weblogs and event logs, rather than the human-friendly data.

In a gentle dig at rival 'Big Data' technologies, such as Hadoop and in-memory databases, Lynch says these approaches only enable queries to be executed more efficiently or faster, rather than finding meaning in unstructured data, such as email.

Together with HP's old IM software business and Vertica, the analytics company HP acquired in February, Autonomy now forms one of the six business units at HP, called Autonomy IM.

This means that Lynch reports directly to CEO Meg Whitman, who he says "completely backs" the acquisition.

"The explanation Meg gives is this is about revenue synergies, the technologies being used together, rather than cost synergies."

To prove this, Lynch reveals that Autonomy has not lost "one significant member of staff" through the acquisition, which even he admits was better than expected. Insisting that Autonomy's people are the company's asset, he attributes this success to being able to reassure employees that their culture would not be affected, while explaining the benefits of having access to all HP's assets.

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