SPONSORS: VODAFONE

Name: Vodafone

In 1982 Gerald Whent successfully convinced the board of Racal Electronics, a defense company, that it should invest in a bid for a cellular mobile phone licence in the United Kingdom. Based in Newbury, the resulting company chose the name Vodafone as it combined the words voice, data and telephone. The first Vodafone analogue service was launched at the beginning of 1985 and by the end of the first year the company had 19,000 customers. That more then trebled in the second year and by 1987 the company had begun to expand internationally. Ever-improving technology helped to drive the expansion and to help fund the business 20% of the business was floated on the London and New York Stock Exchanges in the course of 1988.

Within three years Vodafone was ready to demerge from Racal and at the end of 1991 it launched the world's first GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) system. The company then began to open stores in Britain and the number of customers topped a million for the first time. Within two years that had doubled as Vodafone increased its retail business.

In 1997 the company underwent a major restructuring program and the following year Whent, who had by then been knighted, retired. He was replaced by Chris Gent.

Gent embarked on an audacious program to expand. His first move was to merge the company with the US mobile telephone company AirTouch and less then a year later Gent struck again taking over the giant German Mannesmann engineering empire - owner of a variety of telecommunications companies, including D2 and Orange, in a huge hostile takeover bid. The deal overcame European Union scrutiny when Gent agreed to sell off Mannesmann's subsidiary Orange to France Telecom for $51bn.

Gent has continued his expansion by selling a stake which the company owned in France Telecom and buying a 15% shareholding in Japan Telecom and Vodafone AirTouch is now the world's leading mobile telephone operator.

Initially involved in motor racing via a D2 sponsorship of Benetton, Vodafone switched to Ferrari soon afterwards and has enjoyed huge success thanks to the victories of Michael Schumacher.

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