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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 17:34 GMT
Orange's bright future
Orange logo
Is Orange's latest plan to go public a case of déjà-vu?
The familiarity of Orange's mantra "the future's bright ... the future's orange" is a sure sign of the company's successful branding.

The mobile telephone company will map out one more milestone in its "bright" future when it lists about 15% of its shares on the stock markets in London and Paris.

However, this is not the first time that Orange has prepared to go public. The company first floated on the London Stock Exchange in April 1996, entering the FTSE 100 the following June as one of the UK's largest companies.

The company has come a long way since April 1996 and is now finding its feet under a new owner - France Telecom.

Its stint as a public company came to an end in October 1999 after it was acquired by Germany's Mannesmann. There followed several acquisitions that culminated with France Telecom buying Orange for £25.1bn (E40bn) in August 2000.

The initial IPO

So is this latest plan to list just a case of déjà-vu for Orange?

The original stock market listing in 1996 capitalised the company at £2.45bn (E3.8bn). This time around analysts estimate that the company could be valued at E70-80bn (£45-50bn).

However, despite the difference in the sizes of the two public offerings, there are some uncanny resemblances.

Orange Milestones
1993: collapse of Rabbit
1994: launch of Orange
1996: first Orange float
1999: Mannesmann acquisition
Feb 2000: Vodafone acquisition
Aug 2000: France Telecom acquisition
2001: second Orange float

Back in 1996, despite being small by today's standards, the Orange IPO was dubbed one of the largest deals that year. The imminent listing this quarter also promises to be a jumbo deal.

Four years ago, commentators were quite cynical about Orange's view on the mobile phone market - that people would continue to use mobile phones. Today, the scepticism seems to have resurfaced with reports of mobile phone usage reaching saturation point.

But even if Orange is treading a familiar path, its journey over the past decade has been nothing but eventful.

Rabbit

Orange entered the UK mobile phone market on 28 April 1994. The company was launched by its then owner, Hutchison Whampoa, the Hong Kong-based conglomerate. British Aerospace also took a 32% stake in the company. Barclays Bank had a 5% stake, which it exited after the IPO.

Orange grew out of an ill-fated venture called, Rabbit, by Hutchison and Barclays Bank.

Rabbit was a point-to-point mobile phones service, which launched in 1992. It failed to attract sufficient subscribers and was closed down in 1993.

Four months later, Orange was launched with a new management team led by Hans Snook, Orange's current chief executive, and Graham Howe, now deputy chief executive.

Hans Snook
Hans Snook shaped the company

When Orange listed 29.9% of its shares on the stock market in 1996, it had achieved a UK customer base of 500,000.

By the time the company was acquired by Mannesmann in 1999, the UK customer base had grown to 3.5m and Orange had cornered 20% of the UK market.

Four months after the Mannesmann acquisition, Vodafone succeeded in a audacious bid to take over Mannesmann. Because of its own mobile phone network, Vodafone was subsequently obliged by the European regulatory authorities to dispose of Orange.

New Orange

Enter France Telecom as Orange's new owner. The French telecoms behemoth combined Orange with its own mobile phone interests to create the "New Orange" we know today. As of 4 January 2001, Orange had 9.83m customers.

Throughout its early development, Hans Snook has played a key role in shaping the company's vision and promoting its brand.

At the time of Orange's inception, mobile phones bore more resemblance to bricks than the nifty handsets they have become. Many thought their usage would be confined to bankers and lawyers.

But Snook maintained his belief that everyone would soon come to use mobile phones. That culture of innovation has stayed with the company. For example, it was the first company to offer per second billing and an answer phone service as standard for all of its customers.

Currently the company is developing a slew of third-generation services. At some point, Orange users will be able to identify a song on the radio by holding their phone to the speaker and pressing a button. Another press of the button would order the relevant CD.

Management Changes

Despite the advances in mobile phone technology, Snook has since announced that he will be stepping down as chief executive of Orange to pursue his own alternative interests. He will remain, however, an advisor to the chairman, Michel Bon, and the board of Orange.

Jean-Francois Pontal will become the new chief executive after the flotation.

Under France Telecom, New Orange became Europe's second largest mobile operator after Vodafone.

Whether the change in management will herald a new era for Orange is difficult to predict. Certainly, the need to excel in the fast-changing world of mobile telecommunications will remain constant.

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