Wind Mobile’s top executive is dismissing speculation that management changes could be afoot at the privately held wireless company.
Although pending modifications to the industry’s foreign investment rules are expected to give Amsterdam-based VimpelCom Ltd. the green light to officially take over Wind, the Canadian carrier’s chief executive officer says there are no plans to shake up management.
“There is no management shuffle planned at Wind Canada,” CEO Anthony Lacavera said in an e-mail on Monday. “A lot of progress has been made and I am very proud of our team.”
Wind’s ownership structure, though, has faced a number of legal challenges in recent years given its financial backing from Egypt-based Orascom Telecom Holding, which has since merged with VimpelCom.
As a result, industry observers anticipate that Wind will eventually use the new foreign investment rules to streamline its structure.
Mr. Lacavera, who is a long-time telecom entrepreneur, stepped into the CEO role at Wind in June, 2011, formally replacing Ken Campbell. Mr. Lacavera, meanwhile, is also chairman of holding company Globalive Wireless Management Corp.
Market speculation about Wind’s future has been brewing ever since the federal government announced earlier this month that it plans to lift the foreign investment restrictions on telecom companies with a market share of 10 per cent or less.
Moreover, the planned departure of a key VimpelCom executive, who has played a pivotal role with respect to Wind Canada, has also set tongues wagging in recent days. Last Thursday, VimpelCom announced that Ossama Bessada, its head of Europe and North America and CEO of Wind Italy, plans to leave VimpelCom at the end of June in order to relocate to Canada with his family.
“We believe Mr. Bessada has been closely involved with the development of Wind Canada,” Phillip Huang, an analyst with UBS Securities Canada Inc., wrote in a note to clients on Monday.
“Despite his intention to leave [VimpelCom] we find the destination for his relocation and the timing of the announcement intriguing (2 weeks after the relaxation of telecom foreign ownership restrictions).”
Moreover, it is unclear whether Wind plans to be a bidder in the federal government’s upcoming auction of the 700 MHz frequency.
Even though smaller carriers won a key battle to gain access to more foreign capital, they lost a bid to have Ottawa set aside key spectrum for new wireless entrants. For his part, Mr. Bessada was among those at VimpelCom who pushed for a set aside in recent months.
When asked on Monday if he could provide clarity on whether Wind plans to bid in the next spectrum auction, Mr. Lacavera said: “We are still reviewing the spectrum auction rules – the government has created policies which will unwind all of the competition that has been established in the Canadian wireless industry and Canadian consumers and businesses will unfortunately see prices go up and service levels go down. We are working on a solution but, at this time, the way the rules are structured, there is no reason for any new entrant to show up as we cannot acquire sufficient real estate [spectrum]to compete long term.”
In his note, Mr. Huang noted that an auction boycott by Wind “would significantly limit its future growth potential” and effectively put itself up for sale.
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