Although not yet 40, Anthony Lacavera has already led an assault against the status quo in Canadian telecom. He co-founded a new wireless player—Wind Mobile—challenged foreign-ownership rules and stood up to the dominant trio of Rogers, Bell and Telus. But now the man The Globe and Mail called the “rebel prince of Canadian telecom” is selling his one-third interest in Wind to his European partner and stepping down as CEO. Yet through his firm Globalive Capital, he is vowing to revolutionize venture capital in Canadian media, telecom and technology, while keeping the dream alive that he may one day own Wind.
Where does this leave Canada in the wireless wars? I’m worried about the future of competition. I believe I was the driving force for competition. There are other smaller new wireless entrants, but they really have no long-run-operator-type vision. Have you left a legacy? I don’t see it as leaving a legacy. I am by no means retiring. For global consolidation reasons, the majority owner [Amsterdam-based VimpelCom] wanted to own all the shares.
You’ve been named honorary chairman of Wind. Isn’t that a title that companies usually give to 80-year-olds? I know. My dad said, “You’re way too young to be called anything like that.” I will no longer make operating decisions, but I will continue to support the company any way I can. We’re going to continue talking about what I can do. My interest has become an economic interest.
What exactly is that? I know people don’t understand it. I get a percentage of the company’s outcome. I have no shares, but I am directly incentivized to make sure the company continues to grow as it has. I’ve been an ambassador for the company since it started, and I will continue to give them all my input.
When your partner approached you about selling, were you ready? My immediate reaction was: “I don’t want to sell.” I have no reason to retire, but I had already started Globalive Capital. I was open to stepping back, provided —I told them—“You guys are going to invest, continue to roll it out and not fold the company into incumbents.” I’m very hopeful they will continue that way.
But are you certain? No, but if not, I’ll be at the table as a buyer. Canada needs competition. I’m not about to watch Wind get tucked back into the big guys, like Fido, Clearnet and others were. I don’t want to wake up 10 years later and find we have the highest wireless rates in the world.
So you would rather buy it yourself? I told VimpelCom early on, “Instead of you guys buying me, why don’t I buy you out?” They said Wind needs this much more investment and they were positioned to do it, so it made more sense for them to take me out. But my offer stands. I had an offer on the table to take them out last year. I will put offers on the table this year.
But why get into venture capital? When I decided to start Globalive’s wireless business in 2008, which later became Wind, I got doors slammed in my face everywhere on Bay Street. So I said I would go outside Canada and raise this capital. I got lots of support internationally, but at home we faced unprecedented legal and regulatory challenges. Canadians are so underserved in early-stage growth capital. If we had found Canadian capital, we wouldn’t have had the legal challenges about foreign ownership. There would have been no two-year delay in launching the business.
Are we just risk-averse in Canada? Yes, 100%. It’s not good to fail in this country. Our counterparts in the U.S. welcome risk.
Can you change an embedded culture? Well, I am still pretty young. Canadian venture capital needs fixing. Canada needs Globalive Capital as much it needed Globalive Wireless in 2008.
After years of building a company, can you catch a breath? I’m a pilot. I own a plane and I love to fly. It’s the most incredible escape. And I’m still a single guy and I don’t have kids yet. I hope to enter that phase of my life soon.
Could this be a personal ad? “Eligible 38-year-old, worth millions...”... Seeks qualified female companion [laughing]. I was close to marriage once, but things didn’t work out. I want to put time into it, although the absence of a family does give you more time to focus on work.
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