In 2020, in the middle of the first Corona summer, the world of chips got out of joint. US chip giant Nvidia grabbed British chip design maker ARM, owned by Japanese investor Softbank. The ARM architecture powers the mobile world and the ARM processors are built into the iPhone and most Android devices. Apple switched from Intel to ARM also in its MacBook products. This explains why the ARM/ Nvidia takeover sent shockwaves through the industry.
But long before politicians grasped the immense importance of the deal (it would create an even more powerful US chip giant and deprive Europe of one of the last industry giants), Austrian-born Hermann Hauser took the stage. He is not only an important investor in a number of domestic startups and scale-ups (including Anyline, USound, kompany, Easelink, byrd, ParityQC, Leftshift One) but is also one of the founders of ARM. Trending Topics was allowed to visit the “Steve Jobs of Austria” in his adopted home of Cambridge. ARM’s headquarters are also located there.
When Nvidia reached out for ARM, Hauser, who helped build the chip company and knows it like the back of his hand, was immediately alarmed. He started a campaign page to warn the public about this purchase.
“Should Nvidia really take over ARM, then, of course, that means that the headquarters will move from Cambridge to Silicon Valley – and thus the influence on the future strategy and the expansion of the company will take place in Silicon Valley and no longer in Cambridge. The second reason is that Nvidia is a licensee of ARM. And ARM is the Switzerland of the semiconductor industry. ARM treats every licensee equally. Many of these licensees, and there are over 500 of them, are Nvidia’s competitors. The takeover of ARM by Nvidia would mean that the ARM business model would be broken,” Hauser said a little later in an interview with Trending Topics.
Weapon in the war between America and China
And further: “And the third reason, which is probably the worst for Europe, is that if ARM becomes an American company, then ARM falls under the US government’s export law. This means that ARM will become a new weapon in the war between America and China – and so that we Europeans can do collateral damage. The Americans have access to ARM, the Chinese have access to ARM – the only ones who don’t then would be the Europeans. This is unacceptable because ARM is of course involved in all electronic devices in Europe.”
After Hauser’s warnings became loud and spread through the media, politicians also began to deal with the issue. In April 2021, British politicians let it be known for the first time that they would block the deal (also for reasons of national security), and in October it was also said from Brussels that the takeover could be prevented due to concerns about competition.
Eventually, Nvidia gave in and called off the deal – the political headwind was too great. Now the majority owner, Softbank from Japan, is pursuing the same plan that Hauser had already proposed: not to sell ARM, but to list it on the stock exchange. Hauser has succeeded in getting his opinion across and has shown that he prefers to think in European terms than simply chasing the billion-dollar exit.