Thomas Chambers

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The award for Growing Business FD of the Year goes to Thomas Chambers, chief financial officer of Symbian Ltd.

Symbian is a UK company that produces an operating system for advanced mobile phones. It is a joint venture between Nokia, Ericsson, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Siemens, Panasonic (Matsushita) and, until recently, Psion and Motorola.

The company was created in 1998 to develop the operating system for open 2.5G/3G+ mobile phones. The current staff level is around 800, though this is set to increase.

The company has received extensive press coverage since 2003, as it began to win market share against larger competition, such as Microsoft and Qualcomm. Chambers had been preparing Symbian for a public listing in early 2004, until the major shareholders realised the strategic importance of the company. Psion exited as a shareholder, resulting in a lengthy competition clearance exercise.

The Symbian operating system is licensed on a per unit royalty basis to licensees. Turnover for the year ended 31 December 2003 was £45.4m. This is expected to grow rapidly as the Symbian operating system is adopted by licensees.

To succeed, the company needed to raise large cash funds. Thomas Chambers faced a formidable challenge, confronted by an environment of reluctance to fund long-term software projects and shareholder doubt as to whether such funding would be forthcoming.

This was a complex technology start-up with a complex ownership structure in a dynamic industry. Before Psion left, Chambers positioned Symbian in preparation for an IPO. This included IPO pre-marketing, consisting of more than 100 institutional presentations. Chambers was largely responsible for drafting the prospectus, including verification.

Chambers performed a great job in presenting Symbian to analysts. He had the presence and confidence to deliver company messages convincingly. These efforts have made a significant contribution to Symbian’s market stature, which is high in relation to Symbian’s true size and status as a private company.

Chambers developed flexible planning systems to support financial forecasting in a rapidly changing market and provided the discipline for a potential IPO. He developed and supported governance and stakeholder reporting practices, which meet the needs of Symbian’s sophisticated corporate stakeholders.

Despite the recent uncertain environment, he negotiated a major bank facility. Anticipating and securing the working capital needed to support the company’s investment in software development was crucial.

Chambers has maintained the confidence and support of stakeholders, secured capital for growth, and developed and executed a commercial strategy that has made Symbian one of the world’s leading businesses in mobile telephone operating systems.

Chambers has been instrumental in creating this ‘positioning’ in a difficult market in a short period of time. The current leading position of Symbian is a testimony to his abilities, skills and determination.

Describing Chambers as ‘very determined’, one judged summed up his achievements: ‘He’s shown initiative, a good command of a complex ownership structure and he’s developed governance and stakeholder reporting procedures.’

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