Imagination Technologies' former CEO thinks foreign acquisitions like ARM shouldn't be 'normal'

Hussain Yassaie former Imagination CEOTechWorksSir Hossein Yassaie, chairman of tech industry group TechWorks and former CEO of Imagination Technologies.

Sir Hossein Yassaie, the former chief executive of Imagination Technologies, has said he “doesn’t like” Softbank’s acquisition of British chipmaker ARM.

Japan’s Softbank bought ARM for £24 billion last year, the biggest British tech acquisition to date. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has used the acquisition as an example of how the UK can be successful after it leaves the EU. But leading tech figures, like Yassaie, don’t agree.

“I’m one of those people that really doesn’t like the idea of ARM being acquired by a foreign investor,” he said. “I don’t mind saying it. I know you can paint a positive picture [of] inward investment, that’s great, but we need big UK tech companies which are here for the long term and make a big impact. That’s a problem and we need to recognise it.”

Yassaie was speaking at the relaunch of NMI, a non-profit organisation for the semiconductor industry. NMI has become TechWorks, and expanded to include “deep tech” like artificial intelligence and the internet of things. The group will lobby government, and try to encourage UK talent to stay in the UK and build businesses. Yassaie is currently the group’s chairman.

Speaking to Business Insider, Yassaie said of the ARM acquisition: “As a British entrepreneur, I would prefer firmly based UK companies competing on the global stage, securing business that makes a difference to the country.”

He added: “If I had to defend the case … it’s not bad to have overseas investment in the UK that’s fine, I don’t think that’s something we want to have as normal.”

ARM’s founder, Hermann Hauser, made similar comments after the sale. Both he and ARM’s CEO, Simon Segars, sit on TechWorks’ board.

Yassaie has been out of the public eye since stepping down as CEO of Imagination Technologies, ARM’s biggest competitor in the UK.

He was one of the longest serving British tech CEOs, but resigned last February, when the company said it would make a loss for the year. Yassaie was integral to Imagination Technologies’ deal with Apple, with the company providing graphics and video IP to the iPhone maker.

Imagination is in trouble after Apple ditched that partnership, and the company sold two core business units to stay afloat.

“I love Imagination Technologies,” Yassaie said, adding about his departure: “It was quite clear the company, or some of the shareholders, wanted a different direction. I’m still a shareholder, and I believe there’s a lot of technology in Imagination. It has a lot of built-in punch, and I’ll wait to see what happens.”

Since his departure, he’s a become a board member and advisor to Bristol-based Ultrahaptics, and Australia-based Atomos, a customer of Imagination Technologies. He’s particularly focused on making sure UK tech talent stays in the UK.

Ultrahaptics CEO Steve Cliffee and CTO Tom CarterUltrahapticsUltrahaptics CEO Steve Cliffee and CTO Tom Carter

During his TechWorks presentation, he showed Oxford University figures demonstrating that just 11% of UK tech PhD graduates stay in the UK, while 40% move abroad to work for US tech firms.

“We create this talent, and lose it to the US,” he said.

“We haven’t been able to create a Google or Apple yet, but we certainly have the underlying capability to achieve that. Deep tech is at the centre of that.”

Yassaie isn’t the first tech figure to speak out since the ARM acquisition. Ken Mulvany, CEO of artificial intelligence firm BenevolentAI, has said British startups sell too early.

He told Business Insider in February: There’s a real opportunity to build a business in this country, and there’s an opportunity for the country to lead this sector, and all the pieces are in place. We’ve got incredible scientists, incredible mathematicians, we’re able to draw all these people into London.”

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