Rise & Fall of Sir Christopher Gent

With thanks to this BBC chart, the rise and fall of Vodafone’s share price over the past nine years reflects the career of Sir Christopher Gent, the man credited with turning the company into one of the world’s top mobile phone operators.

In the wake of the row that has split the Vodafone board, Sir Christopher is now giving up the honorary post of life president, the title he was given when he stepped down as chief executive and left the company at the end of July 2003.

Sir Christopher, who is 58, always looks the part as a British corporate captain. Trademark pinstripe suites, expensive shirts, the colour just a touch too loud and braces, mostly red.

He was educated at Archbishop Tennison Grammar School, a stone’s thrown from the Oval Cricket Ground in south east London. He left at 18 to become a management trainee at Natwest Bank and four years later he left for Schroder Computer Services; in 1979 he moved to Baric, another computer services company.

In 1985 he joined Vodafone as managing director of the UK network and within three years was appointed to the board, becoming chief executive in 1997. At that time the company had a market value of £7.5bn; when he resigned as chief executive ut was a £77bn mobile phone behemoth, operating in 29 countries, and with more than 100 million subscribers.

In 2001 he was knighted for services to the mobile communications industry.

The secret of Sir Christopher’s success was simple. During his acquisition spree, snapping up one mobile phone operator after another, he rarely paid cash.
Most deals were settled in return for Vodafone’s high-flying stock.

But then the telecoms bubble burst, the share price plummeted, profits become losses. With the appointment of a new chief executive, a relatively unknown Arun Sarin, the era of grand acquisitions was declared over and the company’s strategy now is organic growth.

The share price continued to tumble and a public war broke out at the top of the company as ‘Gent’s men’ left….finally Gent himself announced he was giving up the life presidency.

It’s a sad ending to a great business story, yet don’t feel too sorry for Sir Christopher who has become a very rich man, earning as much as £12 million a year (including share options) at the peak of the company’s fortunes.  Moreover he is now non executive chairman of pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Smith Kline and sits on various other boards, including bankers Lehman Brothers.

Thanks for reading Big Business.

David Davis


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