Ex-Apple trio fails to shine

Gil Amelio, Ellen Hancock, and Steve Wozniak launched a blank check start-up in 2005. Less than three years after writing that check, investors see most of their equity disappear.

Many start-ups don't have profits when they go public. Some don't even have any significant revenue to speak of. But Acquicor took things a step further. It didn't even have a business.

The company, launched by three former Apple executives, was what's known as a blank-check company. Rather than have a business plan, such firms instead ask investors to bet on their management's track record, in this case that of former Apple CEO Gil Amelio, company co-founder Steve Wozniak, and former CTO Ellen Hancock.

Still, that was enough to land the company more than $160 million in a stock offering. The prospectus for Acquicor noted that at the time Wozniak was the head of a start-up known as Wheels of Zeus. It made no mention, however, of any financial woes, though Wheels of Zeus closed its doors the same week Acquicor went public. I asked Acquicor at the time to comment on the omission, but never heard back.

Acquicor eventually did find its target--a chip foundry known as Jazz Semiconductor, a spinoff of Conexant Systems, itself the former Rockwell Semiconductor.

The bet, however, has so far produced a dismal return, notes Fortune's Adam Lashinksy. He notes that the company gets most of its money selling chips to wireless firms that have been having tough times.

Investors in Acquicor have also been having tough times. Its stock, which was went public at $6 a share, closed on Tuesday at 70 cents.

Last month, the company, now known by the name Jazz Technologies, said it was seeking "strategic alternatives" and had hired UBS to figure out what those might be.

So what of the three founders? Lashinsky notes that Hancock stepped down as president (and from the Jazz board) in June 2007 while Wozniak has also abdicated his unpaid role as "chief visionary officer."

In announcing her departure, Hancock said in a statement, "I am pleased to have achieved the goal we set when we formed Acquicor as a blank check company, which was to find a viable business to acquire that showed great promise and potential for success."

Amelio remains the CEO of Jazz, earning a salary of $600,000 per year, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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About the author

    During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft. E-mail Ina.

     

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