The UK government should have taken a golden share in semiconductor designer Arm “a long time ago” and any attempt to do so now is “trying to close the gate after the horse has bolted”, according to the company’s co-founder Hermann Hauser.
In an exclusive interview with UKTN, Hauser – who co-founded Acorn computers, which later span out chip company Arm – slammed British politicians as “technologically illiterate” and the “root cause” of the current wrangling over the company’s future.
Arm parent company SoftBank, the Japanese technology conglomerate, is weighing up a public listing in both London and New York. It follows the collapse of Arm’s $40bn merger with US tech giant Nvidia.
UK politicians, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have recently joined the lobbying effort to persuade SoftBank to float the company often referred to as the jewel in the crown of British tech in London.
Cambridge-headquartered Arm designs and licences processor intellectual property used in many of the world’s smartphones and computers.
‘The West is stupid with respect to semiconductors’
Hauser, who was previously critical of Arm’s proposed sale to Nvidia, told UKTN that the British government has left it too late to grasp the strategic importance of the semiconductor firm.
“The root cause of this problem over many years is that the large majority of the political class is technologically illiterate,” Hauser said.
Hauser contrasted British politicians to their Chinese counterparts “getting seminars in quantum computing” and many of them having “scientific degrees”.
He said: “Therefore the quality of their decision making, especially on technological issues, is much superior. And it’s also one of the reasons why the West is so stupid with respect to semiconductors in China.”
Hauser, who also co-founded tech investment firm Amadeus Capital, has previously stated that London would be “too small” for Arm’s IPO and has called for a dual listing in London and New York.
Hauser is still in favour of this move, adding that it’s “an entirely emotional one” because Cambridge-headquartered Arm is a British company.
“It should be listed on the British Stock Exchange,” he said. “There’s a technology sovereignty issue that you don’t want to be too much of an American company because depending on who is president of the United States, as we’ve seen with Trump, they can use technology as a weapon – and they have.”
Hauser believes that a dual listing will give Arm access to a more diverse background of investors. He added that he doesn’t believe the London Stock Exchange has enough liquidity to cope with Arm listing solely in the UK.
UK misses golden opportunity
Conservative MPs, including Tom Tugendhat, have proposed that the government should take a so-called golden share in Arm to “safeguard” Britain’s interest. A golden share gives the holder special voting powers in certain circumstances.
The British government has done this before with companies such as Rolls Royce.
It’s a move that Hauser called for back in February, but now he’s less optimistic about the chances of the government taking a golden share in Arm.
“But with a bit of luck, we [the UK] might get at least some of it back and maybe eventually the majority shareholding will be back in the UK – and then a golden share will be more realistic,” he said.
“It’s good to see that even technologically illiterate people like most of our politicians now take note that this is actually important politically, and it is important to have Arm in the UK.”
If the chip maker was to list in Britain, Hauser said it would act as a “beacon” to other tech companies looking to list and show that the capital is “serious about technology”.
Last week Chris Philp, the UK’s tech minister, said that an Arm US listing is not guaranteed and a chance there could still be a UK IPO.
In a potential escalation between Downing Street and the Japanese tech industry, the Financial Times reported this week that the government is considering using the National Security and Investment Act to force SoftBank to choose the UK stock market.
Another proposed solution is for a consortium of chip companies to take a stake in Arm to ensure it remains its neutrality in the market.
Hauser is in favour of this move, stating that Arm “needs to be the Switzerland of the semiconductor industry”.
All this comes as Arm reported record sales last month, underscoring both its value to British tech and to the global semiconductor market.