27 April, 2015 - 15:17 By Tony Quested

Domino’s date with destiny as Cambridge embraces change

A Chinese proverb warns us: “Be not afraid of growing slowly – be afraid only of standing still.”

No-one could accuse the Cambridge technology cluster of falling victim to stasis or stagnation. It positively embraces change and certainly does not allow nostalgia to get in the way of progress.

When Business Weekly opened its doors 25 years ago this month, the Segal Quince Wicksteed report on the Cambridge Phenomenon rated Domino Printing Sciences, the ink jet technology pioneer, as Cambridge’s sole world-class company.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century and with 15 billion dollar flag bearers now credited to the Cambridge cluster, Domino remains world-class. But it, too, now has to embrace the biggest change in its history with its acquisition by Brother Industries.

Ownership will soon reside in the land of the rising sun, although the Japanese buyer says it is delighted with the calibre of the Domino management and doesn’t want to change a thing. Time will tell. The fact remains that the name of Domino will be wiped off the boards at London Stock Exchange by around June 11. That is 30 years exactly after the company listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The dates are only approximate and figure in a provisional timetable issued today by Brother and Domino for completion of the £1.031 billion cash acquisition. The prospective parent is still working through the merger control approvals it needs to satisfy across the globe.

Brother and Domino have confirmed that clearance has now been received from the US's Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice. Decisions are expected before the end of May from China's Ministry of Commerce and the European Commission.

That should pave the way for an official court sanctioning of the takeover around June 4, with the shares suspended in the UK the following day. Cancellation of admission of and dealings in Domino shares in the UK is slated for June 11. A long-stop date of August 14 for the final acquisition has been mooted in case the deal hits unexpected obstacles.

It will be interesting to see how the UK-based Domino management adapts to any change of culture. Brother doesn’t strike me as the kind of business to try to fix what isn’t broken; they are highly unlikely to impose on Domino the kind of bungling bureaucracy HP was guilty of following the acquisition of Autonomy.

Japanese corporate buyers tend to carefully study all the possible angles well ahead of making any official bid for a business but have a track record of repaying trust and demonstrating staying power by investing over the long haul.

It therefore has to be hoped that Domino’s bosses can embrace the opportunity that Brother’s patronage represents and leverage the possibilities from its Cambridge headquarters, knowing the parent has enough cash and kudos to help Domino compete with its giant American competitors.

It has been noticeable how Brother has gone out of its way to communicate openly with the market, and thereby Domino shareholders and investors, every step of the way since going public with its offer. It was equally generous with the bid itself, offering a premium of 42.6 per cent to the average Domino share price.

US technology icon Apple has been distinctly less communicative about its plans for Cambridge since we revealed on November 3, 2014, that it had taken 9,030 sq ft at 90 Hills Road.

The only response we have had since November was a mid-January kiss off from Apple in London saying: “I understand that you requested information on a rumoured new office development in Cambridge. You can say that Apple declined to comment for the story.”

We are delighted to update readers on the “rumoured development” – Apple is now fitting out the building. There’s progress. Apple’s coyness at what the space is for can only be assumed: The likeliest reason is that the space is for a new business – or a newly-acquired one. As we have explained previously, it simultaneously took similar-sized space in Cambridge, Mass.

Local technology entrepreneurs say they would not be surprised if the Apple play was in the Artificial Intelligence space.

Regardless of Apple’s radio silence, its presence here points to the new future for Cambridge. It will be a future fashioned around the new disruptive technologies chiefly impacting delivery of the Internet of Things. That future will be led by the new kids on the block – not only Apple, which tends to scale fast and big, but also Huawei (the Chinese ICT player that acquired Neul).

Their efforts will be complemented by CSR under the new ownership of Qualcomm from the end of summer 2015 and by ARM – Apple’s largest supplier – which continues to have its chips embedded in an increasing number of new-generation devices.

On top of the Domino acquisition, it is fair to say that a new band of ‘Brothers’ is fighting to ensure that Cambridge maintains its upward global momentum in the technology arena.

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