Followers of fibeReality’s blog on LinkedIn, which received several updates each of the five days at OFC 2017, were able to read the rather profound comment by the Chief Commercial Officer of Oclaro at the “Fireside Chat” of the OIDA Executive Forum Program concerning the importance of sticking “to internal competence, such as it is doing in the 1310nm and 1550nm wavelength space.” Similarly, he pointed out the wisdom of the company’s two major competitors, Lumentum and Finisar, “looking to take advantage of its fabs for greater profitability” in penetrating the 3D-sensing market. In the past, we commented on the risk of moving too far away from [one’s] own knitting. Despite major purchases and mergers by prominent vendors in the past in order to diversify, they have returned to their core competencies.
For example, Lumentum, the former JDSU, combined with Acterna, a test and measurement company, in 2005. A principal argument for the merger was supposedly the mutually beneficial synergy created by the two entities because the latter type of business is usually ahead in the sales curve. Yet, inevitably, there were further acquisitions on the testing side, including for both wireless and inside wiring, which obviously resulted in less emphasis on the optical side. Undoubtedly, the top-level management, which had been taken over by Acterna executives, increasingly tired of their margins being dragged down. So, 10 years later they separated into their original forms for both Lumentum and Viavi to focus on their foundational businesses.
Another example of a company going back to its original roots is Oclaro, which came about after Bookham combined with Avanex in 2009. Previously, Bookham had made a significant number of acquisitions including in areas outside of telecommunications. In 2012, Opnext merged with Oclaro, the former getting it all the way up the food chain into subsystems. However, since 2013, partially out of financial necessity, Oclaro sold off its non-vital assets, such as products in the industrial and consumer businesses. Ironically, despite the enormous amount wheeling and dealing, Oclaro closely resembles Bookham back in 2002, as its sole focus is now telecom transceiver components.
A third case is EMCORE (originally Ortel) engaging in significant M&A activity for several years in trying to segue from the CATV/analog telecommunications space. Most recently, it has gone back to concentrating on the earlier business model.
There is a couple of companies that may revert totally back to their fundamental strengths as well. In 2008, Finisar combined with Optium in 2008, the former, data communications-centric, and the latter, a telecom componentry firm. To this day, Finisar’s mindset remains on the datacom side with its revenues there almost doubling since 2013, while over that time, telecom sales levels have remained fairly static. It would not be surprising that once the boom in China is finished that Finisar fully returns back to its earlier strategy.
Over the last several years, it has been II-VI, which has been on a buying frenzy, targeting the consumer optical sector, which appears to be turning into a more challenging arena for the company to grab more share. A few years from now, it will be interesting to see whether the supplier will go back to mainly catering to its traditional market segments, including serving industrial and military applications.
In the end, the lesson for major optical components vendors is to think twice before diversifying through M&A. It is often the case that only the lawyers and the bankers are the beneficiaries.
If it turns out that Huawei becomes a major threat to these vendors, the inevitable consolidation will be a lot cleaner, as the amount of divestment will be kept to a minimum.
[written by Alka Swanson and Mark Lutkowitz]