Saudi Arabian Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal - now Apple?s second largest shareholder - intends to take an active role in the battle for control of the company between his ?good friend? Larry Ellison and Apple boss Gil Amelio.
The prince - who has bought 6.25 million shares of Apple stock over the past two weeks - said on Wednesday that he would give Amelio and his management team the chance to explain to him how they planned to restore Apple?s fortunes.
But Bin Talal made it clear that on the evidence so far, the current team?s efforts at restructuring - which included laying off a third of Apple?s workforce and canning several product lines - do not go far enough for his liking.
?I need to see a plan of how things will improve - a long term plan,? he said. ?I will listen to both sides. I need to see which one convinces me more.? But Ellison would appear to have a head start in any arguments that take place in the coming weeks: the prince repeatedly refered to him as ?my good friend?.
The majority of the prince?s stock acquisition took place in the past few days, after Ellison took Silicon Valley by surprise by declaring that he planned to mount a hostile takeover of Apple and oust Amelio. Key to Ellison?s strategy is the backing of a group of unknown investors, prompting speculation that the prince may be the Oracle boss? main backer.
Bin Talal did not rule out buying more Apple shares as discussions continue with the Apple board and Ellison, neither of whom was prepared to make any comment on Wednesday. ?I am going to keep my options open,? said the prince.
Amelio also has to plead his case to the CalPERS public sector pension fund, one of Apple?s largest institutional investors, which has already attempted to vote out the Apple management team during the company?s annual shareholders meeting in February. Apple's largest shareholder is American Express, which to date has made no comment on the struggle for control.
Meanwhile it is rumoured that the Apple board are looking to thwart Ellison?s ambitions by finding a backer to carry out a friendly takeover with Sun Microsystems top of the list of likely candidates. Apple last year entered discussions with Sun about licensing Solaris during its protracted efforts to find a replacement operating system for the MacOS.
At the Java One conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Sun chief executive Scott McNealy admitted that the two companies had been in discussion on a number of matters in recent weeks. But he would not comment on takeover speculation or on rumours that Sun intends to buy Apple?s Newton division as the basis for a range of Java handheld computers.
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