No one was especially surprised when Mike Lynch, founder of Autonomy, parted company with Hewlett-Paclard this week. After Mr Lynch made $800m from the sale of his Cambridge-based software company last autumn, most industry watchers had been betting that he would last less than a year in his role at the US corporation.
“He’s an entrepreneur par excellence, the type of person who says ‘bugger the rules’. Put him in an organisation like HP, it’s like putting him in the civil service, he’d go mad,” says Richard Holway, analyst at TechMarketView.
Ultimately, Mr Lynch, 47, managed just eight months of what Autonomy employees describe as HP’s strict procedures and overstaffed conference calls. People close to Mr Lynch say he already has another venture in mind. He has plenty of funding and even the leadership team to run it, given that his closely knit top level management team have all resigned from HP in the past few months.
“He is young, talented, and with a record. Finding money will be easy for him,” says one banker who had worked on deals with Mr Lynch in the past.
Mr Lynch has been something of a controversial figure in business. He has been celebrated – even awarded an OBE – for having created a multibillion pound search software company in 1996 off the back of his Cambridge doctoral thesis on Thomas Bayes, the 18th century English mathematician. Bayes tried to use adaptive pattern recognition to prove the existence of God. Mr Lynch used it to make software that could help banks track down the emails of rogue traders and call centres analyse thousands of hours of voice calls.
Autonomy listed in 2000, but despite its popularity with investors, a number of analysts in London were suspicious about the company’s accounts, looking for evidence of some sleight of hand in the figures, which could never ultimately be proven, but which left a whiff of scandal hanging over the company.
Mr Lynch can clearly use bluff and bravado where necessary. He himself tells a tale of his university years when, as an 80s music fan, he wanted to build a synthesiser and sourced the necessary high-spec chips for it from a semiconductor company by pretending to be the testing department of a potential client.
Mr Lynch, the son of a nurse and a firefighter, has cultivated an enigmatic image. Known for wearing a trademark blue blazer and beige chinos, he has eschewed the fast cars and super-yachts of most multimillionaires in favour of investing in a herd of rare breed cattle at his Suffolk estate.
He has a reputation for being an exacting employer, and stories circulate about a piranha tank that he keeps at Autonomy’s Cambridge offices to “encourage” his sales team. On the other hand, those closest to him at Autonomy are fiercely loyal and protective of him.
Any new venture from Mr Lynch is likely to be based in his beloved Cambridge. Despite the higher concentration of technology in places such as Silicon Valley, Mr Lynch has had little inclination to move to the US.
“Ultimately, his departure from HP could be a damn good thing for UK plc,” says Mr Holway.
But the years of excoriating public criticism may have taken their toll. After his experience with Autonomy, Mr Lynch has said he never wants to float another company on the London Exchange. So any venture he does start is likely to remain private.