A former boss of Arqiva, the communications technology group, is the leading candidate to become the next chief executive of the British chip designer which has been embroiled in a row over its Chinese ownership.
Sky News has learnt that Simon Beresford-Wylie, who left Arqiva earlier this year, is in talks to take the helm at Imagination Technologies, the Hertfordshire-based group.
Sources said that Mr Beresford-Wylie was one of a small number of a contenders for the Imagination job and had emerged as the favoured successor to Ron Black, who quit in April amid a storm over plans by its Chinese backers to take control of the company’s board.
Mr Beresford-Wylie, a Briton, has little direct experience of the semiconductor industry, but is well-regarded for the job he did at Arqiva, where he oversaw the £2bn sale of its masts division earlier this year.
Imagination declined to comment on Sunday, but is understood to be keen to finalise the appointment of a new chief executive within weeks.
The identity of other possible successors to Mr Black is unclear.
Ministers are being kept informed about the appointment process, which comes at a time of heightened sensitivity because of the $40bn takeover of chip designer ARM Holdings by Nvidia of the US.
The recruitment of a UK citizen to lead the company would be welcomed in Whitehall, with ministers put under pressure by MPs earlier this year to intervene in a row about corporate governance at Imagination.
Sir Peter Bonfield, the former chief executive of BT Group, was appointed as a non-executive director of the company a fortnight ago.
Sky News revealed this month that Ed Vaizey, the former culture minister, was also in talks to join its board.
The series of appointments forms part of an effort to alleviate concerns about the intentions of China Reform Holdings, an investment vehicle with close links to Beijing, which is the principal investor in Imagination’s owner, Canyon Bridge Capital Partners.
Canyon Bridge took control of Imagination in 2017.
The chip developer plays a critical role in the fast-growing internet of things economy, boasting that its graphics processing units (GPUs) are used in 30% of the world’s mobile phones and, in total, 11bn devices globally.
Imagination was the tenth most prolific UK-based filer of patents in the European Union last year – ahead of Dyson and the chip designer ARM Holdings, which is currently owned by Japan’s SoftBank but which is the subject of talks about a sale to Nvidia of the US.
Earlier this year, Imagination became the subject of a public tussle over its future ownership when Sky News revealed China Reform’s plot to stage a boardroom coup, leading executives to conclude that it wanted to redomicile the company to China.
The bust-up prompted the departure of Mr Black and the launch of probes by parliament’s foreign affairs select committee and the Trump administration in Washington.
In response, Canyon Bridge pledged to keep Imagination headquartered in Britain and told the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, that it would appoint a slate of independent directors.
Canyon Bridge retains offices in the US but redomiciled to the Cayman Islands after CFIUS’s intervention in the Lattice deal.
The British company’s sale to Canyon Bridge was approved by the US government subject to its disposal of MIPS, a graphics processing unit operating in the US.
The recent row over China Reform’s intentions sparked the resignations of other senior executives who have since been persuaded to remain with Imagination.
One of them, Steve Evans, chief product officer, wrote in his resignation letter: “China Reform have clearly set out to take control of the business for reasons best known to themselves, and I will not be part of a company that is effectively controlled by the Chinese government.”
Both he and John Rayfield, chief technical officer, are understood to have rescinded their resignations following assurances about Imagination’s future governance.
Another of the company’s former bosses, Sir Hossein Yassaie, warned the government that China Reform was using “COVID cover” in a bit to seize control of Imagination.
Company executives have hinted that a relisting of the British-based company is an option likely to be explored in the coming years.
Mr Beresford-Wylie could not be reached for comment on Sunday.