Magazine article Management Today

Company Vitae: Vodafone

Magazine article Management Today

Company Vitae: Vodafone

Article excerpt

Vodafone, Newbury's best-known export, is perhaps the greatest British corporate success of the past 30 years. Pity about those tax deals...

Formative years

In 1985 Racal chairman Ernest Harrison and Gerry Whent launched Racal Vodafone, the UK's first public mobile phone network, to commercialise military communications knowhow. Before then, 'carphones' had been exotic devices restricted to the heads of global corporations, the military and espionage chiefs. But Vodafone's first call was famously made by a comedian, Eric Morecambe.

This democratisation of a high-tech status symbol struck a chord with punters, and by the late 1980s Racal Telecom (owner of the Vodafone brand) was worth more than its parent company. But it was 1991's demerger that really started the firm's rise. Vodafone embarked on a decade-long boom, moving into Africa and Asia and across Europe. In 1999 it bought US oppo AirTouch to become the largest mobile operator in the world. But it was the swashbuckling hostile takeover of Germany's Mannesmann for pounds 112bn in 2000 that cemented Vodafone's hero status in the City as a corporate raider.

Recent history

By the mid noughties, Vodafone was no longer the feisty young upstart and competition from rivals offering mobile, landline, broadband and even pay-TV in one handy package was on the up. But despite the risk of mid-life crisis, Vodafone continued to spread across the globe, buying Turkey's Telsim for pounds 2.6bn and Essar in India for pounds 5. …

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