i2: The king watches an auction

Nearly three years after getting re-listed on the Nasdaq, i2 Technologies may well find itself taken off the exchange again. While accounting mistakes got the supply chain software vendor bumped the first time, a sale of i2 is likely to end its 12-year run as a public company sometime soon. Having shopped itself for a year now, i2 said last week there are ‘ongoing talks’ with two interested parties.

In our view, a far more important sign that the company is ready to sell is the fact that it knocked founder Sanjiv Sidhu from his spot as chairman of the company. Removing Sidhu is key to getting any deal done, in our view, because few software executives have dominated their companies to the degree that Sidhu has at i2. He had served as the company’s chairman for two decades since cofounding i2 in a Dallas apartment. He only gave up the CEO title three years ago. (Not even an SEC investigation into shady accounting – and a subsequent $10m fine paid by i2 – could dislodge Sidhu from his seat of power earlier this decade.)

Of course, any deal for i2 still has to flow through Sidhu. He owns 5.5 million, or 26%, of the company’s 21.4 million shares outstanding. And while he may be content to let the company’s ‘strategic review’ drag on, other large shareholders may not be as patient. Hedge funds BlackRock and SAC Capital Advisors both own about 1.9 million shares of i2 and are likely to push the company to get a deal done. (JPMorgan is advising i2 in the process.) Despite the tight credit market, we still think i2 will get snapped up by a private equity shop rather than a strategic acquirer.