BY Fraser Tennant
French telecoms tycoon Xavier Niel has agreed to buy Swiss mobile phone operator Orange Switzerland SA in a $2.9bn deal.
Formerly under the ownership of London-based private equity firm Apax Partners (which bought Orange Switzerland for €1.6bn from France Telecom Orange in 2012), the mobile phone operator has since undergone a major modernisation of its IT systems, including launching its 4G commercial services (which now serves over 90 percent of the Swiss population), and expanding its store network with eight new stores opened last year alone.
In addition to his acquisition of Orange Switzerland, which will be rendered via his private holding company, NJJ Capital, Mr Niel is also the founder of Iliad, France's third-largest mobile operator. Often described as a serial entrepreneur, recent attempts by Mr Niel to expand have met with mixed success; Monaco telecom was successfully acquired in early 2014, but a move to buy T-Mobile US ended in failure due to a difference of opinion over valuation.
Mr Niel said ''Since 2012, when Orange Switzerland was acquired by the Apax Funds, my team and I have followed very closely all the developments at the company. We have witnessed the successful transformation at Orange Switzerland under Apax's leadership. As the new owner of Orange Switzerland, NJJ Capital will provide continuity to Orange Switzerland's customers, employees and management."
Orange Switzerland is the third-largest mobile operator in Switzerland with 871 employees, 2700 stores and 2.1 million customers. The company is considered to be a major challenger to Swisscom which currently dominates the telecommunications market in Switzerland.
''Orange Switzerland has been a major and very successful investment for the Apax Funds," said Gabriele Cipparrone, a partner at Apax Partners. “We have no doubt that NJJ Capital is the right new partner for the company as they embark on the next stage of the company's journey and continue as a major challenger in the Swiss mobile market."
Johan Andsjo, CEO of Orange Switzerland, added “Apax have been really instrumental in leading the company's modernisation efforts and its organisational transformation. The strategy is already generating significant benefits for the company and all of our customers. We now look forward to making further advances under NJJ Capital's ownership."