Imagination gets commitment to keep UK headquarters, but is this just a temporary reprieve?
The Imagination Technologies saga continues: the question of will they stay in the U.K. or will they be moved to China is resolved for now. Its owners Canyon Bridge and U.K. government minister Oliver Dowden met last Friday and gave assurances that its head office would remain in England.
This might sound like good news to those concerned about keeping the company’s HQ in Britain, but what exactly does that mean when the company is ultimately owned by Chinese funders?
There was only a short statement from Imagination CMO David Harold, who confirmed the following:
“Representatives from Imagination Technologies and its owners Canyon Bridge had a constructive meeting with the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport the RT Hon Oliver Dowden where we discussed our ongoing commitment to Imagination Technologies as a UK headquartered business and have agreed to maintain dialogue with the Secretary of State as we further build out our senior management team.”
This follows the boardroom drama over the last two weeks, when U.K. government intervention put a halt on an emergency boardroom meeting which intended to add four new directors representing China Reform Holdings; the CEO Ron Black was removed from his position; other senior executives (Steve Evans and John Rayfield) resigned because they were worried the HQ was moving to China; and the former CEO Hossein Yassaie spoke out to decry the prospect of China Reform taking control.
Now, the latest meeting that took place on Friday between Imagination, Canyon Bridge and the minister Oliver Dowden seems to have managed to get commitment to keep Imagination’s headquarters in the U.K., to the relief of much of its senior management who are mostly based in the U.K. and U.S. The two executives who were widely reported to have resigned because of the prospect of Chinese control are still on Imagination’s web site as part of the management team — this suggests either the widespread reports of their resignations were incorrect or they stayed on because of the commitment received from Canyon Bridge to stay in the U.K. convinced them to change their minds and stay on.
In the end, it is still not clear exactly what the company’s public statement means. It is still ultimately owned by China-based capital. The only benefit to keeping the U.K. headquarters would be to assure customers that the company is British — at least in terms of location, though the company employs staff worldwide.
Imagination Technologies has been under China-based ownership for almost three years now. As my colleague Junko Yoshida pointed out last week, “Corporations exist to serve their owners’ interests. In that light, it seems reasonable to finally recognize Imagination as a Chinese company.” And an ex-colleague, Jim Turley looks at it in another way, posing the question, “How does the ownership, management, or location of a company affect its performance, behavior, or customers? Would you stop (or start) licensing PowerVR designs from Imagination Technologies if its HQ moved to another city?”
If nothing else, Imagination Tech’s current status appears to protect U.K. based jobs — both in the senior management and the engineering teams. It’s pure politics. But underlying this is very likely to be a worry for Imagination that a move to China could end up with its intellectual property owned by China. And that could worry its major customers, including Apple — a customer that the now former CEO Ron Black worked hard to win back.