Strive Masiyiwa, founder of Econet Wireless, recently took to social media to narrate the early days of Econet Nigeria and what exactly forced the company to leave Nigeria.
It got us thinking about how many times we’ve seen the telco change its identity (and management). There was a very fun guessing game we used to play back in the day – How long before Celtel/Zain/Airtel changes its name again? Most times, the guesses were spot on; anything between two and three years was mostly accurate.
And although the telco has stabilised in the identity and management area, it’s still funny when you realise the company has changed names a solid 6 times!
Here’s a chronological recap:
In the beginning… there was Econet Wireless Nigeria
In 2001, Econet Nigeria was one of the three companies that won the GSM license auction – MTN Nigeria and MTEL were the other two. Due to political shenanigans and corruption practises, Econet NG would eventually lose its management contract.
Then there was Vodacom
Vodacom came into the picture in 2004 and took the reins of the company, as management changed hands . It would only last a couple of months though.
But Vmobile was right behind it
In what would be the fastest management change in the company’s storied history, a few months later, management changed hands again. The details are fuzzy and we’re not entirely sure what went on behind the scenes but eventually, Vodacom pulled out of Nigeria and Vee Networks found themselves at the helm of affairs. The company became known as Vmobile. There was a corresponding rebranding campaign. This was still 2004.
Let’s not forget about Celtel
Sometime in May 2006, Vmobile Nigeria was acquired by Celtel, another telecommunications company, for about a billion dollars. This gave the new owners a controlling stake of 65% in the company. Another rebranding campaign was due.
Sometime in 2008 we saw another change occur. Zain Group, another telecoms company, completed its acquisition of all Celtel International’s shares of over $3 billion. Consequently, the entire African operations of Celtel was rebranded from Celtel to Zain, marking the end of the Celtel brand.
And finally Airtel:
About two years later, around November 2010, Zain clipped its wings and morphed into Airtel Nigeria. The change was brought about by an acquisition where Bharti Airtel paid a hefty sum of $10.7 billion.
And that’s the story so far. Let’s not be too harsh on the company. I know people who’ve changed spouses that many times as well. And in the case of Airtel, it looks like the company finally found a good, stable partner, doesn’t it?