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Thursday, 3 February, 2000, 19:20 GMT
Vodafone's Gent - the smooth operator

Chris Gent Confident and unflappable Chris Gent talks business

"I am not a ruthless shark," Chris Gent told a press conference in Dusseldorf as he launched his hostile bid for Mannesmann.

Mobile merger battle
But the chief executive of Vodafone AirTouch has shown a killer instinct in putting together the resulting 112bn ($183bn) deal.

Invariably described as confident and unflappable, Mr Gent has not missed a trick in launching Vodafone into the very top flight.

First recruit

He was the first recruit to the company, and when he took over the reins in 1997, he wasted no time in making his mark.

Vodafone logo Mr Gent was one of Vodafone's first recruits

Prices came down and Vodafone pushed into pre-pay packages, which caused a huge shift in the UK mobile market.

Then last year came the 36bn takeover of AirTouch, a deal famously instigated by Mr Gent using his mobile phone from a cricket match in Australia.

That was followed by the merging of the new company's US operations with Bell Atlantic's mobile division.

Now it is Mannesmann, which had always seemed a natural partner for Vodafone. However, things changed when the German group bought UK mobile operator Orange.

Mr Gent knew that delaying would make it more difficult to demerge Orange - a regulatory necessity.

So when initial attempts at a friendly merger failed, he pounced.

Political chances

Success will put 51-year-old Mr Gent at the head of one of the world's biggest companies.

But friends say whatever he had turned his hand to, he would have been a high achiever. At one point he was a leading figure in the Young Conservatives, so a political career could have beckoned.

Instead, he opted to become a management trainee with NatWest, before stints with ICL, Baric and Racal Telecom. Even then, he was convinced of the future potential of cellular communications.

He has taken big risks to put Vodafone where it is today, and enjoys the trappings that go with his status.

Cricket lover

Reported to have earned more than 4m in 1998, Mr Gent commutes from his Berkshire home in an Aston Martin and indulges his passion for cricket whenever possible - and wherever the location.

His love of cricket is evidenced by Vodafone's sponsorship of the English cricket team.

The one personal hiccup in the Mannesmann saga has been the occasion when he made remarks at a social function using a German accent.

Some commentators saw it as gauche - Mr Gent said his off-the-record comments had been misrepresented and he apologised to Mannesmann chief Klaus Esser.

It is a daunting combination of persuasiveness, affability, guile and determination which has propelled Mr Gent to the global superleague of businessmen.

No ruthless shark maybe, but he has yet to bite off more than he can chew.

As one friend remarked: "He never does anything that isn't calculated."

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See also:
01 Feb 00 |  Business
Fund managers back Vodafone
02 Feb 00 |  Business
Vodafone clinches Mannesmann deal

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