Snook's unshakeable belief that the future was wireless

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The Independent Online

In less than six years, Hans Snook, the 50-year-old Anglo-Canadian chief executive of Orange, transformed a rag-tag bunch of largely failing UK telecom assets owned by Hutchison Whampoa into a £19bn bonanza. Yesterday Mr Snook celebrated that success with a handsome pay-off that could see him earn £45m or more over the next five years.

In less than six years, Hans Snook, the 50-year-old Anglo-Canadian chief executive of Orange, transformed a rag-tag bunch of largely failing UK telecom assets owned by Hutchison Whampoa into a £19bn bonanza. Yesterday Mr Snook celebrated that success with a handsome pay-off that could see him earn £45m or more over the next five years.

What made Mr Snook's success possible was his unshakeable confidence that the future of telephony belongs to wireless networks. "Even for me, it's difficult to envisage the day when we're going to be viewing three dimensions and holographic images over wire-free networks," Mr Snook said recently.

Even before Orange began offering mobile services in 1994 Mr Snook was focused on building the brand. At the time, Vodafone and Cellnet were competing largely for business customers, and few people expected mobile to challenge, let alone overtake, fixed-line services.

But Mr Snook was different from the average mobile phone company executive. He had a clear understanding of marketing, and seemed to know how technology would transform consumers' perceptions of wireless. "You need technology as the enabler, but it's what you do for the customer in terms of service that is the focus," he said.

Mr Snook's rise to the top of British business was unconventional. He was born in Dissen, Germany, in 1948. The family emigrated to London in 1950 before moving to Canada seven years later. Mr Snook attended university in Vancouver and spent six years in executive positions with Westin Hotels. The big change came in 1983 when Mr Snook, then 35, and his wife Etta Lai set off for a back-packing tour of South-East Asia.

But the trip ended after just a few months when he was persuaded to undertake what was meant to be a brief consulting project with a small Hong Kong communications and paging firm, Young Generation Group.

When YGG was bought out by Hutchison Whampoa, Mr Snook joined the Hong Kong conglomerate, though wasn't involved in the company's British operations. That changed in 1993. Mr Snook was parachuted into the UK to figure out what should be done with Hutchison's money losing operations here.

Its interests were comprised of a paging business, a mobile data network under construction and the infamous Rabbit - the mobile phone service that allowed users to place but not receive calls. Mr Snook's recommendations were sweeping: sack the UK management, kill off Rabbit and take a £250m write-off. There was one further bit of advice: invest £700m in building a nation-wide mobile network and develop a new mobile phone brand. It was Hutchison Whampoa's decision to follow Mr Snook's advice that led it to yesterday's successful deal.

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