Branson in Standoff Over NTL Bid for Virgin Mobile

08 December 2005

The trademark glinting molars and open-necked charisma of Sir Richard Branson failed, for once, to win the day in a standoff with his fellow directors at Virgin Mobile.

In the great man's absence en route to Australia, the board of VM, led by chairman Charles Gurassa, unanimously defied their president and largest shareholder by rejecting the £817 million ($1.42bn; €1.2bn) acquisition offer by US-owned cable operator NTL [WAMN: 06-Dec-05].

Branson, who controls 72% of VM's equity and is an enthusiastic proponent of the takeover, was not present at the board meeting - reportedly asleep at the time aboard one of his own Sydney-bound aircraft.

So his reaction to the rejection of the NTL deal is not yet known. Few think it likely, however, that on hearing the news his famed molars will remain exposed to the elements. Even fewer believe he will accept the board's decision.

Word from within the Branson bunker is that he is determined to see the deal through. And it's not that his co-directors are opposed to the deal in principle - they just want more money.

In a press statement issued Wednesday night, chairman Gurass claimed the NTL bid "materially undervalued" the cellphone group which claims over five million UK subscribers.

Continued the VM statement: "Mindful of its duty to maximise value for all shareholders, in reaching this [negative] decision the board has carefully considered the potential offer and consulted with Virgin Mobile's major independent shareholders.

The word "brinkmanship" now echoes through the dank canyons of the City of London's financial district, its denizens agog to see who makes the next move - and on whom.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff