Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is planning to dilute its shareholding in mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Virgin Mobile SA by selling a portion of its shares to Dubai-based telecommunications company, the Friendi Group. At the same time, Virgin Mobile SA CEO Steve Bailey has decided to step down and will leave the company at the end of this month.
TechCentral has established from a well-placed source that Virgin will reduce its 55% stake in Virgin Mobile to a minority position to facilitate Friendi’s purchase. It’s not known what percentage of the company Friendi is acquiring.
Friendi operates a number MVNOs in the Middle East region. It’s understood that 45% shareholder Calico Investments, which is aligned to SA mobile phone distribution business Allied Mobile, will retain its stake, which it bought in early 2011. Virgin Mobile SA will also retain its brand name and identity.
The source says that Virgin, Calico and Friendi intend working together to pursue MVNO opportunities elsewhere in Africa through a newly structured holding company. The final agreement between the three parties has apparently not yet been signed but will be soon.
According to Friendi’s website, the company was established in 2006 and is headquartered in Dubai Internet City. Apart from offering MVNO services, it also provides “outsourced services to mobile network operators to operate specialised brands and mobile packages on their behalf”.
Bailey declines to comment about the developments at the company or on his reasons for leaving, but it’s understood he is parting ways with Virgin Mobile on amicable terms. Virgin Mobile spokesman Jonathan Newman declines to comment.
Virgin Mobile is looking for a suitable candidate to succeed Bailey in the top job.
Virgin Mobile was the first — and is still the only — MVNO operating in SA. It piggybacks on Cell C’s network. Cell C sold its 50% shareholding in the company last year. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media