Richard Staveley has led a very interesting life with experience as a Captain and tank commander in the British Army, co-founder of a company (Stratto Ltd), CEO of a company (ip.access LTD), executive with various companies such as Cisco, outdoor enthusiast (surfing, skiing), and family man. As the former CEO of ip.access, a small cell solutions provider, Staveley found himself in a position that CEOs of technology companies often face ‒ how to grow in a highly competitive market.
U.K.-based ip.access built a successful business on its carrier-grade small cell technology and equipment, which enable cell phones to operate in places such as office buildings, shopping malls, airplanes, and rural areas, where radio signals get attenuated, making cellular communication problematic. Their solutions improve these signals, allowing people to use their cell phones almost anywhere.
Although ip.access’s equipment met telecommunications standards ranging from 2G to 5G, the company recognized that growth in the 5G market would require a major investment of capital. Staveley recalled, "The opportunity that we assessed revolved around 5G for mobile network corporations, in particular, 5G for private networks. What you really require there is an end-to-end solution of which we would be part, and the investment required to develop a 5G solution is significant.”
Staveley and his executive team realized that generating that investment and gaining greater access to the market while competing against larger solution providers such as the big telecommunications vendors and systems integrators meant either aligning themselves with a strategic partner or being acquired by a bigger company.
Ultimately, the ip.access team decided to sell to a larger company, Mavenir, a leading provider of software for open radio access networks (open RAN). These networks conform to an interoperability standard that enables mobile network operators to use equipment from multiple vendors. Mavenir was not new to ip.access. The companies had previously partnered to provide the first live 4G open RAN network site in the U.K. for network operator Vodafone.
What made the deal attractive to Mavenir was the strategic fit of ip.access's solutions to their offerings. Staveley said that Mavenir's interest in ip.access was adding 2G capabilities to their open RAN portfolio. "When we engaged with Mavenir, we quickly understood that 2G was a really important part of the puzzle that they didn't have." Staveley pointed out that 2G remains an important standard for voice, IOT, and in other markets. He added, "There are hundreds of millions of subscribers that are still using 2G networks. So what mobile network operators want is a new way of deploying mobile networks where they can select software for 2G, 4G and 5G networks and run it all off one base station."
The previous working relationship also helped, according to Staveley. “I think having worked together was a big advantage. I often believe that the acquisitions normally spin out of this kind of technology partnership and work that you've conducted together.”
This process started in board meetings where Staveley presented the idea that it was the right time for the company to find a strategic partner. The next step was selecting an investment banker to represent the company in the sale process. Staveley said what the executive team looked for was a banker that provided a clear structure with a lot of experience in representing small-to-mid sized technology companies for sale. They chose Corum.
Allan Wilson, who was the Corum lead on the deal, put together a detailed project plan for the sale, took ip.access out to market, helped them find a buyer, and carried the deal with Mavenir through completion. However, despite the expertise and assistance from Corum and as neat a strategic fit of the two companies, the deal would not have happened without the diligent preparation done by the ip.access team. Wilson singled out Laura Lawrence, the Financial Director at ip.access, who performed the entire due diligence process. Normally, due diligence, an intensive part of the M&A process, involves multiple work streams such as financial, technical, and Human Resources, and is handled in parallel by multiple people. According to Wilson, Lawrence did it all herself ‒ an effort that took more than 70 days working 12 hours a day. Wilson said, “I was blown away by her diligence.”
Wilson also cited Sian Scanlon, a partner in the London-based law firm Taylor Vinters, whose legal work was also crucial in getting the deal done. She was retained by ip.access’s primary investor, PE firm Zouk Capital, to be the attorney of record for the seller. Allen noted that Scanlon was instrumental in handling the many requirements coming from Mavenir and producing a properly drawn and agreed-up share purchase agreement.
After the sale, ip.access was absorbed as a business unit into Mavenir’s Emerging Business group, with Staveley as Senior Vice President of the EB unit. Staveley remarked that the integration was done in a sensitive and clever way. "I think the fit was really good from the start. Mavenir wanted to acquire the company for the technology, for the market footprint, for the credibility, for the people and for what the combination of those things could do. So they're investing in and growing ip.access. That has slotted in beautifully." Wilson also pointed out that a major reason the integration went smoothly was the technical work that preceded the sale. “Richard and his staff did all the technical groundwork and how their capabilities were going to integrate with Mavenir prior to the sale. So once the deal got done, the onboarding process went very smoothly.”
With a positive outcome of the sale, Staveley's life hasn't changed very much, especially given the lifestyle constraints posed by COVID. Staveley said, "I didn't expect my life to change in terms of my financial freedom or anything like that. It was great, don't get me wrong, but what will come next? I really enjoy being a CEO. I've been bitten by that bug and I'm sure I will end up back in that position.”
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