We have a winner.
A panel of five judges; Tom Liston, Director of Research for Versant Partners, Barry Richards, Managing Director of Research for Paradigm Capital, Tom Astle, Managing Director, Research Technology for Byron Capital, Byron Berry, Equity Research Strategist Byron Capital, Ron Shuttleworth, Technology Analyst, M Partners and the readers of Cantech Letter have chosen Jim Skippen, CEO of Wi-LAN, as Cantech Letter’s 2011 Canadian Tech Stock Executive of the Year.
MOSAID DRAMA WON’T DEFINE JIM SKIPPEN, WI-LAN
Thoughts on Cantech Letter’s 2011 Tech Stock Exec of the Year
by NICK WADDELL, FOUNDING EDITOR, CANTECH LETTER
It wasn’t exactly Shakespearean, but it was close.
In early 2006, Jim Skippen was employed by MOSAID, an Ottawa company that had been around since the 70’s and built its reputation in semiconductor technology. Skippen, a lawyer with a strong background in intellectual property, patent licensing and technology law, was MOSAID’s Senior VP Patent Licensing and General Counsel.
As Postmedia News’ James Bagnall wrote, after he was rebuffed on his recommendation that MOSAID should focus solely on its patents, the ultra-competitive Skippen decided it was time to jump ship. A few years later Wi-LAN, which had next to no revenue, would become the largest technology company in Ottawa, by market capitalization. MOSAID, soon after, became a pure patent play.
The 2011 Cantech Letter Awards are brought to you by Zecotek Photonics (TSXV:ZMS). As of November 16, 2011, Zecotek owned title to or controlled more than 55 patents and applications. Click here to learn more.
Was there acrimony underlying Wi-LAN’s move to acquire MOSAID? That Skippen has pointed out his division is the only one left standing at MOSAID means there probably was. Were emotions clouding Skippen’s judgment? The immediate besting of his offer by Sterling Partners, a multi-billion private equity firm whose very survival depends upon correctly assessing the value of middle-market companies, means there almost certainly was not.
For MOSAID, the story ends here. On Monday, December 19th their board approved the $590-million Sterling buyout.
For Wi-LAN, the story seems to be just beginning. The company’s revenue climbed from just over $2 million in fiscal 2006 to nearly $50 million in 2010. Skippen, however, didn’t appear satisfied with breaking that rare benchmark. Wi-LAN’s revenue for the first three quarters of 2011 is nearly $82 million.
The Wi-LAN-MOSAID saga presented a caricature of Jim Skippen as a business pugilist. A brawler. An aggressor. But this is only part of the truth. At the M Partners Annual Technology & Communications Investor Conference on September 20th at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, attendees were met with a nuanced and thoughtful Skippen, who showed he can play the diplomacy game. He answered questions about MOSAID with grace and reserve. What, in fact, he seemed most excited about was Gladios IP, a new division of Wi-LAN that actually works with smaller tech companies, such as Calgary’s Poynt and Mississauga’s 01 Communique, to license their patent portfolios.
In an ironic twist, Jim Skippen was probably the best thing that ever happened to shareholders of MOSAID. Wi-LAN’s bid being topped by Sterling Partners, however, meant Canadian tech investors lost another promising company at a critical stage. But as we enter 2012 with just one pure patent play in Ottawa instead of two, there is some comfort in the fact that, through Gladios IP, Jim Skippen and Wi-LAN could, in a small way, help keep innovative Canadian companies like Poynt and 01 Communique here for good.
The next chapters of the Jim Skippen and Wi-LAN story are the first in the post-MOSAID era. But with what Skippen has accomplished since 2006, it seems unlikely that this time next year we’ll be able to wedge in much time to talk about the entertaining rivalry we saw in 2011.