Blackfriar: Impossible questions that should be quite easy to answer

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If Blackfriar was to give up his habit and tonsure and become a betting man, he’d make two wagers.

The first is that Justin King is poised to jump ship at Sainsbury’s.

Not since Marc Bolland oohed, aahed and obfuscated about his leap from Morrisons to Marks & Spencer has a man managed to get his tongue quite so tied up.

Yesterday Mr King said he was “absolutely committed to this business” and he intended to “play my part in the future growth of the company”, but he simply wouldn’t say how long for.

Let’s face it we can all give three months’ notice and remain committed to the company for that period.

Mr Bolland famously did a similar job harping on about his commitment to Bradford-based Morrisons before jumping at the chance of the top job at M&S.

Here’s a little lesson for chief executives who think they might not stay in the same job for the rest of their lives – be consistent from the beginning that you won’t comment on rumours you’re about to jump ship.

Mr King, a highly intelligent and capable chief executive, made the mistake of committing himself to the job in January when he said: “I see myself here for the long term. I look forward to reporting our 2013 Christmas results.”

He was a very different man yesterday. When Blackfriar asked him at a press conference in London whether he would be presenting the group’s preliminary results in May 2014, he said: “I’m not going to answer impossible questions.”

Yet four months earlier it was quite an easy question to answer.

C’mon Mr King, we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes before.

The second wager is that shares in software company WANdisco are going to continue to rocket.

The Sheffield-based company has had a phenomenal 11 months since its flotation on the London Stock Exchange last June.

Last month the group reported a 56 per cent leap in 2012 revenues to £4m and announced the signing of its first Big Data customer – a tier one UK telecoms operator.

The un-named telecoms firm will use Sheffield-based WANdisco’s software to detect fraud as it happens.

This first deal is expected to showcase WANdisco’s talents with a big profile client.

The group’s technology will allow the telecoms firm to detect strange behaviour as soon as it happens and alert the customer to check if their account has been hacked.

WANdisco’s chief executive David Richards said the group expects to sign up more Big Data customers over the coming year.

“There are some significant deals in the pipeline. We’re talking Fortune 1000 companies. A lot are US companies. Big Data is scheduled to be a £50bn market by 2017. We want a piece of the market,” he said.

The Big Data market refers to the rapidly-growing volume of complex, diverse and high-speed data which underpins an increasing number of firms.

During the first three months of 2013 WANdisco announced the release of new products for the fast growing Hadoop Big Data market.

Hadoop is open source Big Data technology which serves as the backbone for many of the world’s largest and most important databases used by companies such as Yahoo, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and eBay.

Mr Richards said the group will be increasing its Sheffield workforce should these Big Data deals come off.

The group currently has 124 employees and is planning to increase its workforce to 145 with the current product set.

WANdisco reckons it could double this figure if it signs up more Big Data customers.

Yesterday WANdisco pulled off a massive coup by poaching Sage Group’s finance director Paul Harrison, who will move out to California to head up the ambitious group’s finance function.

It makes sense for the finance director to be based in the US as most of its sales are generated there and future sales are expected to be generated in markets outside the UK, particularly in Asia.

Mr Richards drew up a list of most-wanted candidates for the job and Mr Harrison was at the top.

But why should a FTSE 100 finance director at a £4bn company want to join a small, largely-unknown £200m company?

Mr Richards’ answer is simple: “How many other companies on the exchange are growing at 96 per cent a year?

“He thinks there’s the potential at WANdisco to do something similar to Sage.”

He reiterated that the company is committed to retaining its development function in Sheffield and Northern Ireland and there are no plans to move these out to California.

WANdisco’s story just gets better and better.

The shares may have rocketed in value since last year’s IPO, but they’re still worth a punt.