Rather like England's disastrous Euro 2000 campaign, the saddest part of ICL's cancelled stock market flotation is that it was no surprise.
A UK company formed in the 1960s to be at the vanguard of global industry, first falls into foreign hands, and then sees its crown jewels sold in an attempt to return to profitability. How familiar does that sound?
ICL has become the Rover Group of the IT industry. It has a large and loyal customer base, but has struggled to attract a new generation raised on the flashier products of its competitors.
The question its owner Fujitsu must be asking itself now is: which parts of ICL are its Land Rover, and which are its ailing Metro? (Incidentally, you can't see past leaders Robb Wilmott or Sir Peter Bonfield riding a white charger to ICL's rescue, as John Towers is attempting at Rover.)
Ten years ago, when the UK's largest local IT supplier was acquired by Fujitsu, it announced its intention to float within "a few years". Those few years came and went - but the intent remained, despite ICL's fluctuating fortunes.
Rebranding for ebusiness
Along the way, ICL disposed of its hardware business to become an investor-friendly software and services company. Buoyed by the apparent success of this transformation, in 1997 the intent became a commitment, with chief executive Keith Todd promising flotation in 2000. Even as recently as May, as he announced a £69 million loss, Todd still expected to float by November. At that time, internet stocks were booming, so ICL rebranded as an "ebusiness services" company, despite only seven per cent of its revenue coming from ebusiness activities.
Computing had been writing for a number of weeks, exclusively, that the float was in trouble: each week, ICL's denials became more frenetic. Now all Todd's undeniably well-meant bluster has blown away with the wind.
Trade sale 'inevitable'
So what next? Fujitsu always planned to get its investment in buying ICL back, and there's no reason to believe that has changed. ICL will deny it, but a trade sale seems inevitable.
ICL's customers need not worry, as there will still be a company to support them - though it may not be called ICL. Its staff will be worried, because cutting costs means losing people. The rest of the UK IT industry will feel a momentary pang of regret - then drive home in their BMWs.
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