From Hotels To Telecoms by Hans Snook.
Hans Snook was the most colourful and successful of all the early cellular pioneers, establishing the Orange network. But he stumbled into the wireless telecoms industry completely by chance.
Snook’s first career was in the hotel business where he became credit controller for a group of Canadian hotels. Something told him it was not the career for him, but he didn’t know what career he wanted. So he and his wife decided to go back-packing. “The best decision of my life”, he says. With $15,000 in savings he set off to see the world. He started his travels in Asia and, after six months, found himself in Hong Kong. There he got offered a job with a local paging and computer company called Young Generation. He agreed to work for them for one year. “At the end of the year they convinced me to stay on one more year”. One week before he was due to set off, he got a call from Hutchison Whampoa. Over lunch he was offered the job of running Hutchison Whampoa’s cellular and paging business. He agreed to give it a year. That was in 1986, and he could see the opportunity. The mobile communications business in Hong Kong was fragmented and disorganised. He realised that a unified network under one name, with one brand, could be attractive. He replaced the equipment, put in a new computer systems, initiated a new customer service system, and started buying or renting retail properties in Hong Kong. Without anyone finding out the plans, which could have affected existing business, he quietly renovated fifteen stores. All fifteen were opened on the same day. “There was absolute consternation”, recalls Snook, ” I had everybody in uniform. It took off like a rocket but, funnily enough, the stores were blue, and people said: ‘You can’t use blue, it’s the colour of death in Hong Kong’. But I thought: ‘It’s a new world – forget it. We’ll put blue in because blue is our logo’.” So successful was the launch that Hutchison became, at that time (1988-9), the most profitable cellular and paging company in the world. From Hong Kong, Hutchison expanded the business into South East Asia, first Australia, then Thailand, and then Malaysia. Although the company had great success in all these countries, it was still troubled by one country where things were not running smoothly – the UK. Snook was asked to go there, analyse the problems and make recommendations. That was in 1992. Hutchison had the Rabbit telepoint mobile business in the UK, were building a dedicated mobile data network, and had started on the PCN license building programme. Snook quickly identified that they had over-paid for the cellular reselling business, and that the paging business was struggling. It took him two months to make his recommendations which were to close down the Rabbit business, stop the building of the dedicated mobile data network, write off about £280 million and invest another £700 million in PCN technology. “To their credit, and to my fear, they said OK. What I was afraid of was what they said next: ‘Hans, since you recommended that, and we have accepted your recommendation, we need someone we can trust to implement it.’ ” Fortunately they trusted Snook and he went to England. The result was Orange which Hutchison sold in 2000 for thirty billion pounds.