Thursday, December 9, 2021

Due Diligence in the Valley of Deception

 The Theranos trial reminded me of my experience at Nortel doing "due diligence" on a silicon valley startup that Nortel wanted to purchase.  Due Diligence is the process of checking out an acquisition, in my case, checking it out technically.

I got a call from my boss saying that the corporation wanted me to do diligence on a startup making small low cost GSM network equipment.  This had to be done quickly, quietly, and I needed to follow the lead of one of our more eccentric (crazy) execs who was in charge of the project.  Quickly meant in a few days, quietly meant no technical testing, do what you are told, etc.  I had never done diligence before but no one cared.

So off we went to the valley and met with the CEO of this company, who was as eccentric (crazy) as our exec.  She described their product and its maturity and it sounded too good to be true.  We then had a bunch of presentations (all positive), toured the lab (everything works well), and wrote up our report - remember they wanted this done quickly.  Our report basically said that we found nothing negative, but we did not do anything in depth, it sounded too good to be true and the company should be cautious.  We got profuse thanks for our report.

Then I found out that one of my old colleagues had worked for this startup for a year and than had returned to Nortel so I decided to phone him.  He told me that this startup had failed due diligence previously when they were trying to sell themselves to a German company, the CEO was a nutjob, staff turnover was very high, and anything they said about their product was probably a lie.  Basically, they knew how to deceive us since they had failed diligence previously.

So I called my boss in a panic and told him to stop the acquisition, which was not completed yet!  He then shocked me by saying that Nortel didn't really care if the startup was a shambles, they just wanted the positive publicity from acquiring a new innovative company!

This contributed to my loss of faith in Nortel and big corporations in general.

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