|IWON : Careers : Company Profiles : Vodafone AirTouch Plc|
History: from spin-off to world leader
Vodafone AirTouch has its origins in the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company, a product of the 1984 break-up of AT&T. This particular Baby Bell had the good fortune of covering Southern California, a highly mobile and thus particularly juicy market for mobile communications. Accordingly, PacTel Corp., the wireless division, quickly took off. Led by Sam Ginn, PacTel consolidated and expanded into foreign markets such as Japan, Germany, and Thailand. By 1993, however, Ginn had grown frustrated by the constraints of the parent company's traditional phone business. At Ginn's urging, PacTel was spun off a year later in what was then the third largest IPO in U.S. history. The new company, known as AirTouch, became America's fifth-largest provider of wireless services. Following the public offering, AirTouch continued to grow rapidly at home and abroad through a series of acquisitions and joint ventures. In 1998, AirTouch became the nation's number two cellular provider when it acquired a major chunk of MediaOne's (formerly US West Media's) cellular business for $5.9 billion.
Vodafone AirTouch: global mobile
In January 1999, AirTouch agreed to be acquired by Vodafone, a U.K.-based mobile phone giant, in a cash-stock transaction valued at $62 billion. Under the terms of the deal, Vodafone would provide $9 cash and five of its shares for each AirTouch share, and also would assume $4 billion in AirTouch debt. The resulting company, Vodafone AirTouch Plc, had a market value of $110 billion, and served 23 million customers worldwide. Chris Gent, Vodafone's CEO, noted to CNBC that the deal "creates a unique property, a company that has worldwide reach to take advantage of one of the most exciting growth markets that's available in business today." For its part, the Financial Times qualified that the new group "does not offer a genuinely global mobile telephone service: you cannot use its services everywhere." However, the periodical noted that "the company is the nearest thing to such a service" and "there are no obvious challengers on the horizon to Vodafone AirTouch's status as the world's first global mobile phone company."
Although Vodafone captured the AirTouch prize, it wasn't the only company in the hunt. Bell Atlantic had also made a vigorous bid, but its $45 billion offer fell far short of Vodafone's. What rendered AirTouch such an attractive bounty? First, AirTouch had reach at home. The company claimed that its cellular and PCS services reached 149.7 million Americans in 22 of the 30 largest markets. Next, Airtouch was profitable. Its total 1998 earnings hit $7.5 billion, and profits jumped 54% from the previous year's results. Finally, AirTouch, ever since its Baby Bell days, has had a strong international presence. The company has struck joint ventures in Egypt, Spain, Belgium, India, Japan, Sweden, Germany, Romania, Italy, Poland, South Korea, and Portugal. Moreover, these international ventures were growing - overall, international subscriptions grew 83 percent in 1998, with operations in Italy, South Korea, and Spain increasing subscribers by over 90 percent. Industry observers suggested that 50 percent of AirTouch's total revenues would come from international operations by 2000.
Let bygones be bygones
Vodafone Airtouch announced a $70 billion joint venture with Bell Atlantic in September 1999. The combined entity would be the largest mobile communications business in the country, serving 20 million customers. The immense size of the network would enable the venture to offer a single rate plan similar to AT&T's One-Rate plan.
In an effort to preserve its European business strategy, Vodafone Airtouch made a $107 billion bid for German telecom company Mannesmann in November 1999. The German concern had recently announced its purchase of British mobile-phone operator Orange, which incensed and spurred to action, Vodafone CEO Chris Gent. Mannesmann and Vodafone had previously enjoyed symbiotic partnerships in continental cellular access, but the acquisition of Vodafone's arch-rival signaled an end to such peaceful times. Gent took the deal as a direct threat to his company's goal of offering cellular access across Europe and acted accordingly. Mannesmann turned aside Vodafone's initial friendly offer, leading to an enhanced offer of $120.6 billion - an offer that soon turned hostile with Mannesmann's open rejection of Vodafone's overtures.
With its hostile takeover bid in limbo, Vodafone announced in January 2000 that it was partnering with several high tech companies, including Ericsson, Nokia, and IBM, to offer Internet services on cellular phones. The deal called for Vodafone to create a portal, launching in July 2000, that would allow users to access the Internet and other data services on their cell phone screens.
But Mannesmann could only hold out for so long. In February 2000, Mannesmann chief executive Klaus Esser finally succumbed to Vodafone's $183 billion deal - the largest takeover deal ever, eclipsing the AOL/Time Warner merger by nearly $20 billion. The deal was significant for more than just its incredible financials, however. Not only would the takeover vastly expand Vodafone's reach in the European market, but it also signified the first time that a European company had carried off a hostile takeover on such a scale. Mannesmann would control 49.5 percent of the merged company, which would have 42.4 million subscribers - the most in the world.
Vodafone has taken additional steps to expand its European presence. In May 2000, it signed an agreement with VivendiNet to develop a multi-access internet portal in Europe. A month later, the company teamed up with British Telecommunications to acquire shares of the Spanish mobile operator, Airtel. The two companies would have equal representation on the board of Airtel. Vodafone, however, would hold a narrow majority of the shareholdings.
The company's web site, www.vodafone-airtouch-plc.com, offers a helpful career area that allows job seekers to browse for openings by function and location, review the company's benefits policy, and submit resumes using an online form. Insiders tell us that Vodafone AirTouch relies on referrals extensively, and has just begun to recruit on-campus. One contact tells us: "The only people I know who came straight out of college into a lower management position actually interned for us." Temping also seems to be an effective way to get into the company. "One of the very best ways to become an employee is to first become a 'temp' employee through one of the firms we use and then apply from within."
Insiders warn that the interview process at Vodafone AirTouch is no cakewalk. "Interviews can be rather grueling," says one contact. Another tells us that "the interviewing process has become much more technical and intense over the past couple of years, but I don't think it is anything near what companies like Microsoft put you through." Our sources indicate that the process will begin with questions from human resources personnel, and then involve several interviews with department directors and other management.
Regarding interview format, one insider tells us: "Questions are well thought-out and are meant to test your reactions. It is difficult to 'fake' in our interviews, and it's even harder to misrepresent your skills." Another source has this to say about AirTouch interviews: "In our center, interviews are based on a Situation-Action-Outcome pattern. Interviewers ask you to name a situation you may have encountered that deals with a specific issue. You explain how you handled it and what the outcome was." Another source believes "it is always a good idea to have an answer to questions such as 'where do you see yourself in two years' or 'five years?'"
Young industry, young company
As Vodafone AirTouch's history suggests, the company has been at the forefront of the rapidly evolving world of telecommunications. This dynamism is reflected in our insider's comments. "The corporate culture is dynamic, and the business is constantly changing," says one. Another adds: "As an industry we are still pretty young (less than 20 years old) and have a fairly young employee base." Another insider reports that "the average employee age is coming down a bit, from 33 years to 28 years." Happily, this youthful, dynamic culture translates into job growth. In the words of one insider, "there are a lot of opportunities, and AirTouch is certainly a great place to start a career in telecommunications." Another agrees in observing that "the company supports the employee base through internal training."
Vodafone AirTouch insiders consistently comment on the sense of teamwork that pervades the company. "There seems to be no finger pointing when something goes wrong and everyone chips in to help when needed. Also, there is a lot of information sharing." Another insider says there are "few battles between organizations or teams - everyone does pretty well at working together toward the businesses' greater good." Teamwork, however, doesn't necessarily mean working with others. One contact notes: "My boss often leaves me alone to do my work. But management expects you to deliver, so you do have to pull your weight around here."
Compensation: think benefits
Regarding salary, one notes that "pay is about median for the industry." Another underscores the pay issue, noting that "[AirTouch treats] employees well although there are some who say that the salaries are not high enough." Evidently, "AirTouch pays middle-of-the-road salaries when compared to other wireless carriers, but then you have to add in the rest of the compensation." The "rest" includes stock options, performance-based bonuses, and "full medical & dental." Insiders also applaud the "extensive opportunities for travel in some departments" and flexible scheduling such as "9/80 work weeks that allow regular three day weekends." Unfortunately, some insiders grumble about the meager vacation package: "They are a little behind in the vacation department, as they only offer two weeks a year until you've been with the company for five years, when it goes to three weeks."
Job satisfaction: high
"Overall, I have found AirTouch to be a great place to work," says a satisfied insider. Another chimes: "I like working here. It is among the best companies to work for. AirTouch is a progressive company, as it would have to be in the wireless field."
Cellular Services;International Long-Distance Services;Paging;Personal Communication Service (PCS);Satellite-Based Network Services;
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