The cricket-loving seaman's son who rose to dominate the world of communications

CHRIS GENT was watching a Test match in Sydney - a childhood dream - when he used a mobile phone to make a call that led in January to his company, Vodafone, becoming the world's biggest cellphone operator. That merger, with the American company AirTouch, was worth pounds 32bn; but for Vodafone's chief executive, who earned roughly pounds 4.5m last year, it was just another step on a road where new technology has always been a driving force.

Mr Gent, 51, the son of a seaman, was born in Gosport in Hampshire but brought up in Dulwich, south London. He was schooled at Archbishop Tennison Grammar School - near the Oval cricket ground. His interest in the slow-paced international game has remained: Vodafone sponsors England's team, he likes reading cricket memoirs and he listens to live radio commentary while in his Aston Martin DB8 car driving between his Berkshire home and the company headquarters in Newbury.

His career began as a junior clerk at NatWest at the age of 19. After a couple of years he left for Schroder Computer Services, where he stayed for eight years while dabbling in Tory politics. He became chairman of the Young Conservatives - aged 29. That career fizzled out when he told its annual conference the government should spend less on arms. However, he had learnt valuable lessons and made even more valuable contacts - such as John Major, the future Prime Minister.

In 1979 he joined the computer company ICL, then Britain's flagship in the sector. There he met more future stars, including Sir Peter Bonfield, now BT's chief executive. "He was an out-and-out networker, in the positive sense of the word, who got to know the kind of people who would give him the right kind of information," Sir Robert Atkins, a close friend of Mr Gent's, noted earlier this year. "He never does anything that isn't calculated."

Mr Gent joined Vodafone as managing director in 1985, when the company had just been set up and mobile phones were still clumsy. The duopoly with BT Cellnet earned the company vast riches, however.

Mr Gent used the political skills he learnt earlier in life to put him in line to succeed chief executive Sir Gerry Whent in 1997. "He has frozen out anyone who is not loyal and who doesn't owe their position to him," said one analyst.

The bid for Mannesmann, owner of Orange, would shrink the choices for phone users while expanding Vodafone's already vast reach. For Mr Gent, it will be just another part of his unstoppable expansion.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits