Richard Waters Autonomy’s Mike Lynch gets the Oracle treatment

You have to hand it to Oracle, it never misses a chance to humiliate its rivals in public.

On Wednesday it was the turn of Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy. His provocation? To have publicly denied that he tried to “shop” his company to Oracle before eventually selling to Hewlett-Packard. (This has now turned into a “he said, she said” – see updates, below)

 

Mr Lynch made his claim to the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog, brushing off any contact with Oracle as nothing more than some informal initiative cooked up by a banker for Autonomy.

Not so, according to Oracle, which went on to highlight a personal visit Mr Lynch paid to Oracle president Mark Hurd in April. The exact purpose of that meeting may be open to interpretation and Mr Lynch’s overt purpose at the time might not have been to sell his company. But it seems that he left enough evidence behind to give Oracle the chance of a PR coup. (Not according to Mr Lynch – see updates.)

Why spoil the fun? Here’s the key part of Oracle’s statement:

Either Mr. Lynch has a very poor memory or he’s lying.  ‘Some bank’ did not just happen to come to Oracle with Autonomy ‘on a list’.”  The truth is that Mr. Lynch came to Oracle, along with his investment banker, Frank Quattrone, and met with Oracle’s head of M&A, Douglas Kehring and Oracle President Mark Hurd at 11 am on April 1, 2011.  After listening to Mr. Lynch’s PowerPoint slide sales pitch to sell Autonomy to Oracle, Mr. Kehring and Mr. Hurd told Mr. Lynch that with a current market value of $6 billion, Autonomy was already extremely over-priced.  The Lynch shopping visit to Oracle is easy to verify.  We still have his PowerPoint slides.

Update: Mr Lynch responded through the press that he had indeed met Mr Hurd in April – but for a “lively discussion about database technologies”, not to try to sell his company. He added: “Frank was not engaged by Autonomy and there was no process running. The company was not for sale.”

That brought another riposte from Oracle late on Wednesday, which promptly published the Autonomy slides online to support its claim that Mr Lynch had indeed been intent on selling his company.

By Thursday, Mr Quattrone had been dragged into the row:

The slides Oracle posted publicly were sent by me to Mark Hurd in January, were prepared by Qatalyst and were for the purpose of our independently pitching Autonomy as an idea to Oracle. These slides were not used in our April meeting with Mark and Doug.

So was Mr Lynch’s visit to Oracle in April part of an informal courtship designed to prepare the ground for a possible sale? Probably. But it appears from this exchange that there was no formal process to “shop” the company.

Now we’ve established that much, do you think think the mud-slinging will stop?