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Upheaval at the top of big data hopeful highlights deep divisions
Thursday 13 Oct 2016 Author: Steven Frazer

Just days after announcing that the company’s CEO and joint founder David Richards was to leave struggling big data hopeful WANdisco (WAND:AIM) he has made a Lazarus-like return to the helm of the Sheffield and Silicon Valley-based company, sparking a boardroom walk-out.

Richards’ departure was reported on 29 September but on 6 October it was revealed that he had snatched back his CEO role, and taken on temporary duties as interim chairman, after talks with its biggest shareholders.

Oppenheimer Funds and asset manager Schroders (SDR) are the two biggest investors in the company with 14.3% and 9.4% stakes respectively. Richards himself and joint founder Dr Yeturu Aahlad are the two next largest shareholders, owning just over 7.5% of WANdisco apiece.

Richards return was, according to a company statement, backed by shareholders owning 58% of the 36,981,777 shares in issue yet it has proved to be a controversial move, prompting the instant resignations of chairman Paul Walker, the ex-Sage (SGE) executive, non-executive director Ian Duncan and CFO Erik Miller, the latter having only joined the company on 28 September.

Miller has subsequently been tempted back to the CFO role, while William Dollens has been instated as a non-executive director. As a partner at consulting firm and 4.3% shareholder in WANdisco Global Frontier Partners, there is speculation that Dollens appointment was part of a deal struck with Richards in order to secure support for his return to the board, although this has not been confirmed.

The depth of the boardroom divisions are seemingly matched by the wider shareholder base. When news of Richards’ departure broke the share price responded by nudging more than 5% higher to 221p but those short-run gains have been completely wiped out by a 21% slump, to 176.5p, in the wake of his reappointment.

The company has also unveiled a pair of new contracts, the bigger of which a $1.5m deal for its Fusion big data suite with a ‘leading US financial services institution’. The second, worth $775,000, comes from a bank headquartered in Europe for WANdisco’s Sunversion application lifecycle management solution. (SF)

These bits of new business are clearly vital if WANdisco is ever to establish the sort of growth profile it has often hinted at but, so far, remains undelivered. It raised growth funding of $15m in June at 160p but the company continues to consume cash, about $2.7m in the first half of this year to 30 June, despite making massive cuts to its operations cost base as revenue has flat-lined. Until there is demonstrable progress on both cash burn and revenue growth, investors should avoid.

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