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史蒂夫•乔布斯(Steve Jobs),杰克•多尔西(Jack Dorsey),戴维•理查兹(David Richards)。这三位都是曾经被迫离开科技公司、但之后成功回归的首席执行官。苹果(Apple)的乔布斯和Twitter的多尔西都花了数年时间。而WANdisco的理查兹只用了四天就恢复原职。

他们都曾与董事会闹翻,但都在股东的支持下重新掌权。理查兹曾是伦敦另类投资市场(AIM)上市公司Big Data的联合创始人。他回忆起3年前的一天,当时WANdisco董事长保罗•沃克(Paul Walker)突然拿着辞职信来到他下榻的酒店。震惊之下,理查兹在上面签了字。消息公布后,愤怒的投资者直接给他打来电话。

等到超过一半的股东告诉沃克,他们希望理查兹回来,身为董事长的沃克就辞职了。当时发明WANdisco背后技术的耶图鲁•阿拉德(Yeturu Aahlad)和理查兹拥有这家英国软件公司15%的股份,这也提供了帮助。

他说:“(我被解雇)不是公司或者股东的意愿。人们有一种认知,我对投资者是诚实的,他们知道的。如有他们问我对某件事的看法……所有首席执行官都有点过于乐观,但我会对他们直言相告。”

沃克曾认为理查兹太过乐观。当时WANdisco持续亏损,需要不断筹集资金来吸纳更多现金。该公司股价在2013年底几近每股15英镑,而当时仅略高于2012年上市时每股180便士的发行价。

现在理查兹可以公布更好的消息了。亏损已经缩小,到2020年公司应该能够接近收支平衡。虽然公司股价仍不稳定,但目前每股大约500便士的股价远高于发行价。

理查兹表示WANdisco的困境也是大多数科技公司常常遇到的困境。它们在赚钱之前需要巨额投资,但一旦获得了投资,它们就能赚很多钱。

“成功不会一蹴而就,”他说,“太多投资者只关注季度业绩。如果你只关注短期目标,就会完全错过长期目标,很多英国公司都是这样。”

WANdisco的软件使企业能够将数据从现场传送到云端——即亚马逊(Amazon)、思科(Cisco)和谷歌(Google)等公司拥有的远程服务器——而不必面临停电的风险。为了节省资金和时间,这样做的公司由少变多,已经形成了一股洪流。WANdisco与IBM以及戴尔(Dell)旗下的EMC建立了代销WANdisco服务的关系,并与所有大型云提供商合作。

该公司在谢菲尔德(Sheffield)和硅谷都设有总部,这反映出理查兹本人对祖国的忠诚。

现年48岁的理查兹在英格兰北部城市谢菲尔德长大,那里曾是全球钢铁行业的中心。他的父亲曾经营一家钢铁企业,二十世纪七八十年代外国竞争对手的廉价产品进入以后,理查兹亲眼目睹了人们受到的影响。“人们无法养活自己。”

理查兹认为钢铁行业前途渺茫,于是攻读了计算机学位。随后在伦敦附近的一家软件初创企业工作。这家公司上市后,他从所持股份中赚了大约200万英镑。25岁左右的时候,他开始想办法赚更多的钱。

1998年,他的雄心壮志驱使他和当时的女朋友、现在的妻子——简(Jane)一起来到旧金山。“这是互联网的开端,这些新公司是在一夜之间诞生的,你可以看到世界正在变化。”

理查兹创立并出售了一些软件公司——曾经“用一场PPT演讲筹集了2500万美元”——当时金融家们在第一次科技热潮中拼命买进。他因专注于商业软件而非消费软件挺过了萧条时期。

他的下一步行动是与一些同事成立一家风险投资公司。但是理查兹对阿拉德及其技术的印象太过深刻,以至于WANdisco是这家风险投资公司唯一的一项投资。WANdisco成立于2005年,2018年营收1700万美元,估值约2.2亿英镑。

理查兹遵循了硅谷给予员工股票期权的做法。WANdisco曾价值近10亿英镑,兑现了股票期权的早期员工很幸运。

“做一个公平经营的资本家是可能的。我还记得我们第一次去谢菲尔德给员工股票期权的时候,当时他们不知道股票期权是什么。”

他说,更多的英国公司也应该这样做。“英国和美国之间仍然存在巨大差异。如果你没有设立至少占公司全部股份25%的期权池——我指的并不是在上市公司,而是在初创企业里——美国投资者将对你雇用最优秀人才的能力提出严重质疑,因为你不能光让员工为你工作。”

他还赞赏硅谷的精英体制。

“我从来没有觉得自己是一个局外人,因为这里有这么多不同的背景和文化。与你说话的方式无关,与你在哪里上学无关。而英国仍然存在阶级制度的潜规则。

“(在英国),如果你没读过私立学校,没含着金汤匙出生,你的父母负担不起学费,那你注定要过任人差遣的生活。”

理查兹和他的妻子当然有能力让他们的两个孩子衣食无忧,但他坚称他的两个孩子要工作谋生。“我们的长期目标是捐出尽可能多的财富,我们已经为此建立了一个基金会。”

戴维和简•理查兹家庭基金会(DJRFF)在谢菲尔德的学校教授计算机和编程,以帮助年轻人就业。理查兹还希望基金会能解决年轻人的心理健康问题——他认为这是一场由社交媒体引发的危机。

他说,现在是时候严格控制科技公司了。“到处都有人追踪着我们,我只是不太喜欢那样。我认为这一定会改变,因为社会在这方面的认知会越来越多,也许我能做些什么来帮助实现这一点。”

译者/何黎

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Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey, David Richards. All three are chief executives forced out of tech companies who subsequently returned in triumph. In the case of Mr Jobs at Apple and Mr Dorsey at Twitter, it took years. Mr Richards, of WANdisco, was reinstated within four days.

All fell out with their boards but were restored to power by shareholders. Mr Richards, who co-founded the Aim-listed Big Data business, recalls the day three years ago when chairman Paul Walker turned up unexpectedly at his hotel with a resignation letter. In shock, Mr Richards signed it. When the news was announced, outraged investors called him direct.

Once Mr Walker was told by more than half the shareholders that they wanted Mr Richards back, the chairman quit instead. It helped that Yeturu Aahlad, who invented the technology behind WANdisco, and Mr Richards had 15 per cent of the UK software company.

“[My firing] wasn’t the will of the company or the shareholders. I think there’s an appreciation that I’m very honest with investors, they know that. If they ask me my opinion about something . . . All CEOs tend to be a little bit over-optimistic, but I’m straight down the line with them,” he says.

Mr Walker had believed Mr Richards was more than a little over-optimistic. WANdisco had made persistent losses and needed repeated fundraisings to suck in more cash. The shares, which almost hit £15 at the end of 2013, were hovering just above the 180p level it listed at in 2012.

Mr Richards can now point to better news. Losses have narrowed and the company should be close to break even by 2020. The shares remain volatile, but at about 500p are comfortably above flotation levels.

Mr Richards says WANdisco’s travails are typical of most tech companies. They require huge investment before making money but when they do they make lots of it.

“Success doesn’t happen in a straight line,” he says. “Too many investors fixate on quarterly results. If you’re focused only on short-term goals, you’re going to completely miss the long-term objectives, and so many UK companies do.”

WANdisco’s software enables companies to transfer their data from on-site premises to the cloud — remote servers owned by the likes of Amazon, Cisco and Google — without the risk of an outage. The trickle of companies doing this, to save money and time, has become a flood. It has relationships with IBM and Dell EMC to sell its services and works with all the big cloud providers.

The company reflects Mr Richards’ own loyalties, with bases in Sheffield and Silicon Valley.

Mr Richards, 48, grew up in the northern English city that was once the centre of the global steel industry. His father ran a steel business and he saw first hand the impact on people when it was opened to cheap foreign competition in the 1970s and 80s. “People were unable to afford to feed themselves.”

He decided there was little future in steel and took a degree in computing. That led to a job with a software start-up near London which floated, making him about £2m from his stake. By his mid-20s he was thinking of ways to make even more money.

In 1998 his ambition drew him, with his girlfriend, now wife, Jane, to San Francisco. “It was the beginning of the internet, it was these new companies being created overnight, and you could see that the world was changing.”

He built and sold software companies — once raising “$25m on the back of a PowerPoint presentation” — as financiers desperately bought into the first tech boom. He survived the bust by concentrating on business, rather, than consumer software.

His next move was to form a venture capital company with some colleagues. But he was so impressed with Mr Aahlad and his technology that WANdisco was its only investment. Founded in 2005, it had $17m revenue in 2018 and is valued at about £220m.

Mr Richards followed the Silicon Valley practice of giving employees share options. With the business once worth almost £1bn, early employees who cashed in have been fortunate.

“It is possible to be a capitalist but to operate in a fair way. I remember giving stock options to people when we first went to Sheffield and they didn’t know what they were.”

He said more British companies should do the same. “There are big differences still between the UK and the US. If you don’t have an options pool — I’m not talking about in a public company but in a start-up company — that’s at least 25 per cent, there would be severe questions from US investors about your ability to hire the best talent, because you just wouldn’t get people to work for you.”

He also admires the meritocracy of Silicon Valley.

“I’ve never felt like an outsider here, because there are so many different backgrounds and cultures. It wasn’t about the way that you spoke, it wasn’t about where you went to school. The undertone of the class system in the UK still exists.

“[In the UK] if you didn’t go to a private school, you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth, your parents couldn’t afford the fees, you’re destined to a life of servitude.”

Mr Richards and his wife can certainly afford to set up their two children for life but he insists they will work for a living. “Our long-term goal will be to give away as much of our wealth as possible, and we’ve set up a foundation in order to do that.”

The David and Jane Richards Family Foundation teaches computing and coding in Sheffield schools to help young people get into employment. Mr Richards also wants it to tackle mental health in young people — a crisis he believes is caused by social media.

The time has come to rein in tech companies, he says. “There’s tracking on us everywhere, and I just don’t particularly like that. I think this is bound to change, as society becomes more educated about it, and maybe I can do something to help do some of that.”

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