The Business On... Charles Ergen, Chairman, EchoStar
Friday 31 December 2010
Who in heaven's name is he?
Look to the night sky – you might see one of his satellites blinking at you.
An American Rupert Murdoch?
Denver native, 57 years old, chairman of one of the biggest pay-TV operations in the US, with a fortune estimated at $5.2bn. Not bad for a guy who started out by flogging cheap satellite dishes from the back of his van in 1980.
Smart guy, then?
He has always been about the calculated risk. He is hardly the onlydeal-doer who has sometimes been a pro blackjack player on the side, but he might be the only one thrown out of a casino for counting cards.
He keeps himself to himself?
Analysts complained that they had to try to wangle their way to his annual poker evening if they ever wanted to get to meet him.
What is he up to?
He is staking his claim to the next frontier of technology – wireless broadband. And he has been using all his poker-playing acumen to win the battle for the heavens.
The battle for the heavens?
There's only so much wireless spectrum to go round, so EchoStar and savvy hedge funds are amongst those looking to snap up smaller satellite operators on the cheap. Harbinger Capital, the famous hedge fund run by Philip Falcone, is amongst those Mr Ergen appears to have got the better of.
Mr Falcone is a wireless broadband evangelist, yes?
Indeed. He has even started LightSquared to buy and resellspectrum. But in a skirmish over a bankrupt operator called TerreStar, Mr Ergen has beaten Mr Falcone at his own game, buying up lots of unwanted TerreStar bonds so that EchoStar can control the financial restructuring and buy the company.
With the result that...?
More spectrum gives EchoStar a chance of launching satellite smartphones, online video services, you name it. Mainly though, it's the satisfaction of another hand well played.
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