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The Lunch

Even with braces, Wind Mobile CEO can still blow off some steam Add to ...

Anthony Lacavera is worried that he won’t be able to talk.

It is an unusual predicament for the CEO of Wind Mobile, who is nothing if not loquacious. But as he arrives at the Chase restaurant in the financial district of Toronto for a late lunch, he is feeling muzzled. Not by his PR person or the federal government, but by his new Invisalign braces – clear, removable plastic trays that sit over the teeth.

Getting braces at 39 is tough, but his alignment needs to be corrected before a dead tooth can be capped without risking breakage. That means Mr. Lacavera is stuck with the trays for up to a year. As we order cocktails, he’s only worn them for three hours, but he’s already had enough.

“I have to have them in 22 hours a day,” he says, settling into his chair before opening wide to give me a look. “It’s not going to happen.”

His torment, though, really begins when he tries to take a sip of his drink; a mélange of Grey Goose vodka and soda with a splash of cranberry juice. “My first drink with a tray. It didn’t go down very nice.”

For Mr. Lacavera, there has been a lot to swallow since Wind officially launched its service four years ago with a boast that it would shake up a comfortable Canadian wireless market dominated by Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and BCE Inc. (which also owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail). He is, by turns, praised for having the guts to get Wind off the ground and panned for its “disappointing” results to date. Mouthguard or not, he is not easily silenced.

Toronto Life magazine recently named him one of the 50 most influential people in Toronto, dubbing him the telecom industry’s “shit-disturber-in-chief.” He relishes the handle. Sporting a Dolce & Gabbana suit and a devilish grin, he has come to our lunch ready to ruffle feathers. With pages of typed notes at hand, it becomes apparent that his Bay Street critics and the Big Three carriers have him fired up.

As wireless entrepreneurs go, Mr. Lacavera is the one to watch. Through his holding company, AAL Corp., he maintains voting control of Wind, the largest independent startup carrier. With Public Mobile already sold to Telus, and Mobilicity languishing under court protection from its creditors, Wind has become the linchpin in Ottawa’s wireless strategy – its best hope of ensuring a stable fourth carrier in the key markets of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

When it comes to Wind’s future, depending on one’s view, Mr. Lacavera either holds all the cards or none at all. He may have voting control, but he is not bankrolling the business. And those that are, namely Amsterdam-based VimpelCom Ltd., seem less than enamoured with Canada. VimpelCom’s CEO, Jo Lunder, has publicly stated he prefers a “clean exit” from the country due to regulatory headaches.

Consequently, market speculation is rife that VimpelCom is not committed to funding Wind’s efforts to buy Mobilicity or its plan to bid for more spectrum in January’s auction. Some analysts have declared “game over” for Wind and they question why they should pay heed to Mr. Lacavera if the company cutting the cheques is non-committal.

But Mr. Lacavera says those critics don’t have a clue about what VimpelCom is thinking and are ignoring key facts about Wind.

“VimpelCom is in a spectacular position,” Mr. Lacavera says. “[Wind’s] smaller competitors are dead. Consumers are lined up against incumbents. There is a stable network … We have 3-per-cent market share and our long-term aspirations are 13, 14, 15 per cent. What’s not awesome about this picture?”

He is particularly peeved with Dvai Ghose of Canaccord Genuity, one of Bay Street’s most senior telecom analysts, for suggesting any potential Wind bid for Mobilicity cannot be taken seriously. In that same research note, he stated that Wind has been “less than successful” in terms of attracting subscribers and growing its average revenue per user (ARPU).

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