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Microsoft ready to make more big acquisitions, says CFO

Microsoft may make more large acquisitions than it has done before and become a more distributed company rather than  moving key employees to its headquarters, said chief financial officer John Connors.

Although Microsoft has decided to return a significant piece of its $60.6bn (£34bn) cash hoard to shareholders and not pursue a takeover of German ERP firm SAP, large acquisitions are likely to increase, he said.

"I think there is a probability that we will do more large deals than we have done historically. There are not many SAPs out there, but there is the potential that we could do a few big ones, but not likely that big," Connors said. A big deal would be an acquisition valued over $1bn, Connors indicated.

Microsoft's discussions with SAP were disclosed in June at the beginning of a trial over Oracle's hostile takeover of rival PeopleSoft. The talks ended after Microsoft decided the deal and the post-union integration would be too risky. SAP is currently valued at about $50bn.

While not providing any details of where Microsoft is looking, Connors said that Microsoft needs a policy change if it wants to grow by acquiring other companies. It is no longer possible to simply move key people, such as research and development teams, [to its Redmond headquarters], he said.

"Increasingly some of the companies we have looked at have had more distribution than what we ideally like," he said. "I think we will have to have a more distributed model if we do more acquisitions."

Microsoft has usually had the core of its development work done at its headquarters. However, acquisitions have already forced some changes. Navision, the group that sells software for tasks such as accounting and customer relationship management, is a major development centre for Microsoft Business Solutions. Microsoft acquired Navision in 2002 in a deal then valued at $1.45bn.

Connors went on to say that that Microsoft does not have much trouble meeting the compliance rules such as Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, but there should be relief for smaller companies. Sarbanes-Oxley is a set of corporate disclosure and financial reporting rules for companies that are traded publicly in the US.

"For large organisations that have the resources the amount of time spent on this by senior-level people is more diffused than in a smaller organisation. So it is disproportionate for a small public company in terms of senior management time spent on this act and its compliance," Connors said.

"We have got to figure out maybe a version 2.0 for small companies and some explicit language Congress and states have to pass to limit the liability of particularly directors and officers of small companies and in particular startups," he said.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service


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