Hummingbird Opens Negotiations with Open Text

[A slippery fish, a slippery fish, swimming in the water...]

I've been watching this one for a month, and just can't help jumping in on the latest news.

Hummingbird announced this morning that they're in negotiations with Open Text to sweeten an earlier takeover offer, trading off the Open Text deal against the current bid from Symphony Technology Group.

Pardon me while I chortle uncharitably to myself for a moment...

[The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round...]

Brings me right back to the good ol' days of December 1998, when Open Text first took a run at PC DOCS Group (where I was VP Worldwide Marketing at the time). DOCS and Open Text were direct competitors - crossing swords daily in the field.

We didn't like the cut of their $56-million all stock bid, and hit the road to see if we could scare up better offers. After three nerve-wracking, intense months, and many, many presentations to other suitors, we eventually closed a deal with Hummingbird for something like $192 to $305-million (depending on how you did the numbers) in an all cash "merger".

Candidly: a deal with Hummingbird didn't make an awful lot of sense, on the face of it. The two companies appeared to have almost nothing at all in common. We had to work hard to come up with a meaningful rationale for the deal. I think my positioning materials were almost single-handedly responsible for eroding the original meaning of the word "synergy" in a business context by several strata. (Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). A combination of PC DOCS and Open Text would, ostensibly, have made a great deal more sense to a lot of people.

Credit where its due, however - the squooging together of DOCS and Hummingbird did indeed produce some really good stuff, and pretty fast. I remember being scowled at and derided in one of the earliest joint management team meetings, for suggesting we should position the deal as an enterprise portal play.

See: Hummingbird had a bunch of connectivity and business intelligence technology; DOCS was in the document and knowledge management space. Their business was structured data management (columns and rows), ours was in the management, indexing, and collaborative creation of unstructured data (documents, emails, and other corporate knowledge).

Put those two together into a single executive-level UI, and whaddya gots? An EIP. Made sense to me, anyway - even if the two CTOs snorted at the idea.

Funnily enough, that's exactly how we did end up spinning and selling the deal. Darn successfully too.

And what's more, we followed through and built the damn thing - in record time. We launched the Hummingbird EIP at my old mate Carl Frappaolo's Delphi Group Conference in December 1999 - only about six months after we completed the formal merger. And it took off like a...um...bird - getting rave reviews and shipping 3,000 seats in the first 50 days.

So now here we are, about seven years later, and the wheel has turned again, with Open Text offering around $485-million to snap up the 'Bird - and all that combined technology and customer goodness in between. Groovy.

[Oh no, it'?s been eaten by a...(dum, dum, duuuuum) great white shark, a great white shark, lurking in the water...]

You know, Tom Jenkins (Open Text's Executive Chairman) has been waiting a heck of a long time to get this deal done. He's a patient man, it seems. The Hummingbird of today is an awful lot different from the PC DOCS of 1998, of course - but it's probably an even better deal now than it ever was before.

For the record: I no longer have any direct affiliation or relationship with either party. I sold the remains of my Hummingbird stock a long, long time ago (dammit). But I think Tom Jenkins, John Shackleton, and the Open Text team could bring a lot of value to Hummingbird - and vice versa. I don't know anything about Symphony Technology Group - the other suitor in the mix, so I can't really offer much of an assessment there. Be interesting to see how this one pans out though.