Tue, 30 Aug 2016
THE man at the helm during Vodafone’s meteoric rise has said the company’s future should always lie in Newbury.
Former chief executive Sir Christopher Gent, was the main driving force behind Vodafone becoming, at one point, the largest company in Britain.
He ran the tech giants from 1997 to 2003, overseeing the company’s overseas expansion, including the hostile takeover bid for German tech behemoth, Mannesmann, in 2000.
The 68-year-old was speaking after unveiling a blue plaque to commemorate the first UK mobile telephone call which was received in Newbury in 1985.
The event signalled the start of the massive growth the company would see over the following 20 years, first under original chief executive Sir Gerry Whent, and then under Sir Christopher.
The historic call was made from St Katharine Dock in London by comedian Ernie Wise to the Vodafone offices, then at 20-22 The Broadway (now Thames Court).
Sir Christopher, had only just joined the burgeoning communications firm as managing director of Vodafone Group Plc and has fond memories of his early days.
“It was a very exciting time,” said Sir Christopher. “There was a whole group of young people all coming together under Gerry’s leadership.
“I don’t think people did realise just how big it would become. We had analogue tech and there was a limited amount of frequency.
“We estimated, by the end of the project, we would have one million subscribers; BT projected half as many. We all hopelessly under estimated it.
“But by the time we had started going international we could see the enormous growth potential.”
Vodafone has always been rooted in Newbury, although some concerns were raised that the company may look to move its HQ out of the UK following the vote to leave the EU.
But Sir Christopher said: “Newbury has been Vodafone’s home from the beginning. The fact it is now a global enterprise – it’s part of the history.
“For the first many years, until we built the new headquarters, all of the early employees lived in the town nearby.
“I think the UK base of the company is very firmly based in the UK with the vast amount based in Newbury. Newbury has been a terrific place to develop.
“Newbury always worked for us and Vodafone has done well for Newbury so it’s been a symbiotic relationship.”
Sir Christopher, who still lives in the area, stepped down as Vodafone chairman in 2003 before becoming chairman of global pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline.
“It was the right time for me to stand down,” he said. “And the business continues to flourish I’m pleased to say.
“I think Vittorio Colao (current CEO of Vodafone) is giving the company very good leadership – he’s taking it into very new interesting tech areas, and that’s what it has to do.”