Beware Silicon Valley financiers, Skype edition

By Felix Salmon
June 20, 2011
remember, for instance, the way in which Sequoia Capital forced Zappos to sell itself to Amazon over its founders' wishes. But at least when the sale took place the executives got their full share of the proceeds -- in contrast to what seems to be going on at Skype.

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Tensions between owners and managers are nothing new; you might remember, for instance, the way in which Sequoia Capital forced Zappos to sell itself to Amazon over its founders’ wishes. But at least when the sale took place the executives got their full share of the proceeds — in contrast to what seems to be going on at Skype.

Skype Technologies SA, the Internet- calling service being bought by Microsoft Corp, is firing senior executives before the deal closes, a move that reduces the value of their payout…

Silver Lake, based in Menlo Park, California, led a $2 billion buyout of a 70 percent stake in Skype from EBay Inc in 2009. The private equity firm and several Skype directors have actively voiced their opinions on who should be fired…

“As part of a recent internal shift, Skype has made some management changes,” said Brian O’Shaughnessy, a Skype spokesman.

When there’s a change of control, it’s standard for all options to vest in full. In this case Silver Lake is firing a slew of executives — at least eight, according to Bloomberg’s Joseph Galante — just before the change of control happens. Silver Lake’s partners and investors get to cash out at the $8.5 billion valuation; a large swathe of Skype’s own management, by contrast, does not.

This does seem pretty evil. I’m sure it makes financial sense for Silver Lake, which will be less diluted by the immediate vesting of lots of options. But when you’ve just scored one of the biggest home runs in the history of private-equity investing, it’s generally considered polite to share the spoils with the people who actually run the company. Rather than summarily firing them for no obvious reason but sheer greed.

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