Virgin Mobile chiefs' future in doubt

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The Independent Online

The senior executives of Virgin Mobile are increasingly unlikely to land permanent jobs at NTL, if the £930m takeover by the cable company goes ahead this year.

Speculation over the future of Tom Alexander and Alan Gow, Virgin Mobile's chief executive and finance director, has mounted as the mobile phone company prepares to allow NTL access to financial information before an agreed deal.

It emerged over the weekend that Fidelity, one of the largest minority investors in Virgin Mobile, is considering asking the Takeover Panel to examine the terms of a side deal that will see NTL license the Virgin brand from Sir Richard Branson. Because Sir Richard controls Virgin Mobile via his 72 per cent stake, Fidelity believes the likely £10m per year licensing deal should be examined to see if it is inducing Sir Richard to act in a way contrary to the interests of minority shareholders by recommending the takeover by NTL.

The companies refused to comment. Advisers to both Virgin Mobile and NTL are said to be relaxed about Fidelity's mooted intervention, saying that Sir Richard is keen to be seen as protecting interests of the minorities and has agreed to distribute £9m of the proceeds of the sale of his own Virgin Mobile stake to the minority shareholders.

That deal, presented to Virgin Mobile's board on Friday, would take minority shareholders' payout to 732p per share, but Fidelity is believed to have bought stock at higher prices. NTL's advisers are beginning to raise the possibility that it could walk away rather than raise its offer a second time, preferring a standalone deal to license the Virgin brand for its existing TV and telecoms services.

Mr Alexander joined Virgin Mobile from BT Cellnet, now O2. Mr Gow has been finance director since February 1999. The pair steered the company through the launch of its services in November 1999 and its stock market flotation July 2004. Sources said it was unlikely the two men would remain after the integration was complete.

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