Sunday, November 27

Hermann Hauser, founder of Arm: ‘Brexit is the biggest loss of sovereignty since 1066’ | Technology sector


The story of the smartphone revolution might have been very different. Hermann Hauser was enjoying success as a computer entrepreneur in Cambridge in 1985, but his company, Acorn, needed a better chip. Hauser approached the US firm Intel to ask if he could modify one of its chips.

“Intel said get lost,” says Hauser. “Who the hell are you? They are perfect as they are.’”

It may well regret that decision. Hauser instead asked two engineers to create Acorn’s own version. There are now 225bn descendants of the first “advanced Risc machine”, or Arm, the biggest rival to Intel. If you are reading this on a mobile device there is a very high chance you are holding one of its chips in your hand – the company estimates they are embedded in 95% of smartphones worldwide.

Yet its future is deeply uncertain, amid concerns it will list on New York’s stock market, loosening its UK roots. The company has halted work on a dual listing in the UK, the Financial Times reported last week. That would be a major blow to Downing Street, which has been lobbied hard for a London listing.

Hauser, now a venture capital investor in a series of UK tech companies, sold his shareholding in Arm in 2016 when it was bought by Japan’s SoftBank, but he is an outspoken advocate of it retaining its status as an independent company, and a UK tech champion.

American chip designer Nvidia tried to buy Arm in 2020, which “would have been an absolute disaster”, he says, speaking from his Cambridge office. He is in favor of an initial public offering that allows a diverse shareholder base to take minority investments and keep Arm as the “Switzerland of the semiconductor industry”, able to work with anyone.


CV

Age 73

Familia Pamela Raspe, wife of 40 years this year, an adult daughter and an adult son.

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Education School in Kufstein, Austria; studied physics at the University of Vienna followed by a PhD in physics at King’s College, Cambridge.

payment “That’s not an easy question to answer. The actual salary is £200,000, but the main income is from our investments and that varies wildly.”

last holidays “We’ve been on our farm for three years, but we took a little holiday driving down to Napier [in New Zealand].”

Best advice he’s been given “I wasn’t sure whether to take a job at a big company [running research following the breakup of Acorn]. My friend advised me to take the job.”

Biggest career mistake Not gaining a proper understanding of stock control at Acorn.

Word has overuses “Well, maybe ‘the metaverse’!”

how he relaxes “I go running.”


“YOdeally, it would be a dual listing again,” says Hauser. “It was very good to see that even our technologically illiterate political elite, including the prime minister, has woken up to the fact that Arm is actually a great national asset. And probably the only company in the UK that has global relevance in the technology space.”

Hauser still uses “we” when discussing Arm, and he somewhat sheepishly acknowledges that he still thinks of it as “my baby.”

He grew up a “country boy”, living in a small Tirolean village in Austria, learning physics during mountain walks with a family friend. When he was a teenager, he was sent to a summer English-language course in Cambridge, starting a decades-long love affair with the city. He studied physics in Vienna but returned to Cambridge to study for a doctorate, at the Cavendish Laboratory.

From there he and a friend, Chris Curry, set up Acorn, which made the hugely successful and widely beloved BBC Micro computer, which was sold to thousands of UK schools. Acorn got into difficulties and was eventually bought up, but Arm, which was set up in 1990, emerged.

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Arm had two advantages, Hauser says: it had no people and no money. That meant it had to be simple from the start. He turns to a bottle of champagne, sitting on his shelf in his office besides models of chemical compounds – it was bought to mark the Arm chip working first time.

As a teenager Hauser was warned that physics would open up good jobs, but that he would never make money. That has not proved entirely correct. When Acorn went public he reckons he and Curry were the 10th and 11th richest people in the UK.

“I was the sort of Steve Jobs of the UK at the time,” he says. “I was a well-known figure, well, nationwide, because we were in the Daily Mail when things went well, and we were in the Daily Mail again when things didn’t go so well.”

That reputation brought investment opportunities. He founded the venture capital house Amadeus with Anne Glover, and it now holds an investment portfolio worth about £1bn over 50 or so investments. Hauser has been involved in seven “unicorns” – companies that have achieved a $1bn (£830m) valuation – and two of them have become “decacorns”, above the $10bn mark.

Of his current investments, he reserves particular praise for Graphcore, a would-be rival to Nvidia for artificial intelligence chips; Paragraf, which makes sheets of the wonder material graphene; and Xampla, a maker of degradable plastic bags from pea protein.

Learning about companies “keeps me young,” Hauser says. A scientist’s excitement shines through when discussing the details of the technologies, such as the way Xampla copies the process used by spiders to make their silk, or the intricacies of quantum effects. (Hauser believes quantum computers will crack the encryption relied on for much of the world’s online security within the next five years, earlier than many other analysts.)

Hauser spends his time between the UK and New Zealand (where he and his wife were stuck during pandemic lockdowns), but he describes himself as a “passionate” European. That meant he felt the UK’s withdrawal from the EU as a bitter personal blow.

He also thinks it was a strategic mistake. His grand theory – he is working on a book about it and has discussed it with senior government officials – is that the US, China and Europe are the only three “technology sovereignty circles”, with the chip-making factories and 5G knowhow needed for a modern economy. “Britain has no chance of being technologically sovereign,” Hauser says. “Brexit has been the biggest loss of British sovereignty since 1066.”

He also warns against the UK throwing in its lot completely with the US, which became an unreliable partner under Donald Trump, and wants it to revive cooperative ventures such as the EU’s Horizon project, which funds scientific research, but which is under threat amid rows over post-Brexit trade rules.

“I hope that despite the toxicity that you have with Brexit between Europe and Britain at the moment – ​​which is idiotic – I hope that Britain will join Europe’s technology sovereignty circle,” he says. “Britain doesn’t want to become the 51st state of the United States.”


www.theguardian.com

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