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为圆孙正义物联之梦,软银ARM正在加速扩张

如今,ARM正以前所未有的速度进行扩张。联合创始人Mike Muller甚至必须先预约,才能使用自己的办公室。

这位首席技术官在英国剑桥ARM总部接受采访时说:“我的办公室已经成为了会议室,所以我必须先预约,因为我们的房间不够了。”

2016年,日本软银收购了该公司。在软银的敦促下,ARM增加了约2000名员工,使其员工总数略低于6000人。这一人员扩张导致现有的设施显得拥挤不堪。

ARM将很快搬迁到剑桥校园内一栋价值4800万英镑(6100万美元)的新大楼里。该大楼有一个巨大的180米长的中庭,由“浮动”楼梯支撑着,并与超过1000公里的以太网电缆连接。虽然这栋大楼的建设在软银收购之前就开始了,但它的确是一个符合ARM新的霸主和野心的总部。

“它看起来有些低调,”Muller带着典型的英国讽刺口吻说道,然后补充道,“但也很好,很大。”

ARM成本飙升,利润骤降

ARM成立于1990年,在软银斥资320亿美元进行收购之前,它已经悄悄地成长为英国最大的上市公司。它所设计的芯片被授权给世界上最大的科技公司。因此,几乎所有智能手机、移动手机和平板电脑都运行着ARM芯片。

现在,在软银首席执行官孙正义的领导下,管理ARM的英国高管们不得不走进聚光灯下。孙正义对该公司抱有非常大的野心,他在会议中敦促ARM高管快速了解当前运营的细节,并跳转到长期计划。他坚持要求ARM每月提交其10年业务计划的更新,以使其始终关注着未来。

ARM首席执行官Simon Segars表示,这意味着他的工作就是疯狂投资,因为该公司试图进军高端计算领域,并成为自动驾驶汽车技术的核心。正如孙正义所指出的,在缩减开支之前,这些努力必须开始有所回报,为公司在大约五年后再次上市做准备。

ARM的新主人也带来了不同的观众。Segars最近向孙正义展示了一款全新的联想笔记本电脑,该笔记本电脑使用了基于ARM技术的芯片。那天晚些时候,在与微软创始人会面时,他被要求留下来为比尔·盖茨做一次演示。

当Segars和他的团队沉浸在技术主管的梦幻场景中时:投资于增长并担心未来的盈利能力,交易所正把他们带出舒适区。ARM的技术在半导体中无处不在。孙正义也希望ARM进入软件和服务领域。

Segars称,当孙正义首次与ARM展开收购谈判时,他对一个“科学项目”十分着迷。孙正义收购ARM的原因之一是,他相信拥有主导智能手机市场设计的芯片制造商,可以在芯片上实现类似的市场影响力,并推动物联网的发展。

这种互联的未来来的似乎并没有孙正义和许多未来学家所希望的那样快。其中一个原因是,所有这些连接的设备都带来了巨大的管理麻烦——它们必须确保安全,更新软件并保持连接。这样做在技术上是很复杂的,而且可能很昂贵。

另一个问题是,ARM在物联网服务方面并没有太多专业知识。它总是与结合了芯片设计的设备的实际终端用户相隔一点距离。

所以现在,在孙正义的鼓励下,ARM已经开始扩大其物联网服务部门。8月,该公司斥资6亿美元收购了美国的数据分析初创公司Treasure Data,这是该公司自2014年以来最大的一笔交易。6月,ARM收购了一家格拉斯哥创企Stream Technologies,该公司主要致力于改善物联网设备的连接。

Sanford C. Bernstein的分析师Chris Lane表示:“在10到15年后的世界里,可能会有一万亿台联网设备,即使每个设备每月只赚几便士,仍然会是一个巨大的数字。现在还为时过早,但这的确是个好主意。”

最终,Segars可能会发现自己不得不削减开支,并向公众市场投资者解释为什么他的公司价值高于软银支付的价格。Segars称,软银计划在大约五年内重新上市ARM。

ARM的机会之窗可能会更早的关闭。软银愿景基金是在科技飞速发展的时候构建出来的。ARM本身受到了芯片行业持续上涨信念的鼓舞,因为不断出现的新行业为他们的产品和运营增加了电子产品和智能。

2018年底,大型科技和芯片公司尤其不受欢迎。人们担心自动驾驶汽车等新市场的出现速度低于预期,以及库存过多等旧问题的回归,已经开始给半导体行业带来压力。基准费城证券交易所半导体指数在连续两年增长超过36%后,于2018年下跌了7.8%。

ARM已经知道,在一个领域的成功不会给它提供免费通行证。近十年来,该公司一直试图削弱英特尔在计算机技术领域的主导地位,但仍然几乎没有立足之地。

在服务器领域,英特尔在过去10年中占据了超过90%的市场份额。而基于ARM的处理器却经历了多次失败,导致芯片制造商在纷纷加入之后又选择了退出。因此,ARM仍然没有从英特尔手中赢得可观的业务规模。ARM在2018年获得了巨大的发展,正如长期以来传言的那样,英特尔最大的客户之一亚马逊,宣布在服务器网络中使用自己设计的芯片,而这些芯片则是基于ARM技术的半导体。

Segars的招聘活动导致了成本飙升,利润则出现缩水。最近一个季度的成本为3.27亿英镑,同比增长33%。收入则只有1800万英镑,大约是一年前的四分之一。

目前,ARM的所有者并不担心这一状况。但是,由于软银持有的25%股份掌握在愿景基金手中,所以该公司投资未来却没有回报的自由将会受到限制。Segars意识到投资者的期望很高,比如孙正义就期望获得比320亿美元多得多的投资回报。

“如果我们要成功IPO,达到Masa喜欢的倍数,我们显然需要更多的证据,”他说。“我的工作是确保我们利用这次私有化的机会,疯狂投资,拿走所有利润,并再次进行投资。”

These days ARM Holdings Plc is expanding at such speed co-founder Mike Muller has to make a reservation before he can use his own office.

“This has become a meeting room so I have to book it when I’m here because we’ve run out of space,” said the company’s chief technology officer in an interview at ARM’s Cambridge, U.K., headquarters.

ARM has added about 2,000 employees bringing its headcount to just shy of 6,000 at the urging of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., which bought the company in 2016. This has cramped its existing facility, where employees are spread out among six low-slung office buildings.

ARM will soon move to a new 48-million pound ($61 million) building on the Cambridge campus -- featuring a vast 180-meter long atrium bookended by “floating” staircases, and wired with more than 1,000 kilometers of ethernet cabling. While begun before the SoftBank acquisition, it’s a headquarters that befits ARM’s newfound swagger and ambition.

“It’s quietly understated," Muller says with typical British irony, before adding, "It’s nice, it’s big."

ARM's Costs Soar, Profit Plunges

Chip designer goes on hiring spree under SoftBank ownership

Founded in 1990, ARM quietly grew into the U.K.’s largest listed company before SoftBank’s $32 billion takeover. It designs chips that are licensed to the world’s largest technology companies. As a result, just about every smartphone, mobile phone, and tablet runs on an ARM chip.

Now under SoftBank Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son, the English executives who run ARM are having to step out into the spotlight, due to Son’s ambitions for the company. Son presses ARM executives in meetings to move quickly through details of current operations and skip to long-range plans. He insists that ARM submit monthly updates to its 10-year business plan to keep it focused on the future.

ARM Chief Executive Officer Simon Segars said it means his job is to invest ‘like crazy’ as the company attempts to break into high-end computing and become central to self-driving car technology. Such efforts will have to start to pay off before spending is scaled back to prepare the company to go public again in about five years, as Son has indicated.

ARM’s new owner has also brought in a different audience. When Segars recently showed Son a new Lenovo Group Ltd. laptop built on a chip that uses ARM technology, he was asked to hang around and do a demonstration later that day for Bill Gates during a meeting with Microsoft Corp.’s founder.

While Segars and his team are in the dream scenario for technology executives: invest for growth and worry about profitability later, the exchange is taking them out of their comfort zone. ARM’s technology is pervasive in semiconductors. Son wants ARM to move into software and services.

When Son first opened takeover talks with ARM, he became fascinated with a “science project,” according to Segars. One of the reasons Son bought ARM is his belief that the chipmaker, with designs that dominate the smartphone market, could achieve similar market sway in the chips that will power the internet of things -- industry jargon to describe the connection of everything from refrigerators to factory equipment to the internet.

That connected future doesn’t seem to be dawning as quickly as Son and many other futurists hoped. And one reason is because all those connected devices present a huge management hassle -- they must be made secure, have their software updated and stay connected. Doing this is technically complicated, and potentially expensive.

Another problem is that ARM didn’t have much expertise in services for the internet of things. It had always been two steps removed from the actual end users of the devices that incorporated chips made with its designs.

So now, with Son’s encouragement, ARM has begun bulking up its IoT services division. In August, the company spent $600 million for U.S.-based data analytics startup Treasure Data Inc. -- its largest deal in 14 years. In June, the target was Stream Technologies, a Glasgow-based company that improves connectivity for internet of things devices.

“In a world that 10 to 15 years from now could be contain a trillion connected devices, even if they just make a few pennies per month per device, that’s still a big number,” said Chris Lane an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “At this point it’s still too early. It’s a good idea.”

Eventually, Segars will likely find himself having to cut back spending and explain to public market investors why his company is worth more than SoftBank paid for it. SoftBank plans to list ARM in about five years, according to Segars.

ARM’s window of opportunity may close sooner than that. SoftBank’s Vision Fund was conceived when technology was flying high. ARM itself was buoyed by the belief that a rally in the chip industry was sustainable, due to new industries queuing up to add electronics and intelligence to their products and operations.

At the end of 2018, big tech and chip companies in particular are out of favor. Concerns that a trade war, slower-than-expected emergence of new markets such as self-driving cars and return of older issues like too much inventory, have begun to weigh on the semiconductor industry. The benchmark Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index dropped 7.8 percent in 2018, following two consecutive years of growth of more than 36 percent.

ARM already knows that success in one area doesn’t provide it with a free pass. The company has been trying to make a dent in Intel’s dominance of computer technology for almost a decade and has little more than a foothold.

And in servers, where Intel has had more than 90 percent market share for a decade, ARM-based processors have had multiple false dawns with chipmakers jumping in, then bowing out without winning discernible amounts of business away from Intel. ARM got a major boost in 2018 when, as was long rumored, one of Intel’s biggest customers, Amazon.com Inc., announced it was using chips of its own design in its server network, semiconductors that are based on ARM’s technology.

Segars’ recruiting drive has caused costs to balloon. Profit has pancaked. In its most recent quarter costs were 327 million pounds, up 33 percent from the same period a year earlier. Earnings before certain items was just 18 million pounds, about a quarter of what it was a year ago.

For now ARM’s owners aren’t concerned. But with 25 percent of SoftBank’s holdings in ARM in the hands of the Vision Fund, almost $100 billion raised from other investors, there are limits on the company’s freedom to invest in the future without returns. Segars is aware that expectations are high and Son expects to recoup a lot more than the $32 billion spent to acquire ARM.

“We’ll obviously need a lot more proof points along the way if we’re to have a successful IPO which will achieve the kinds of multiples that Masa likes,” he said. “My job is to make sure that we use this time we’ve got as a private company, to invest like crazy, to take all our profits and reinvest.”

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