2degrees' billionaire backer joins Microsoft board

John Stanton with then-mayor John Banks during an Auckland visit

2degrees director, John Stanton, who also serves as chairman of 2degrees’ majority shareholder Trilogy International Partners, was made a member of Microsoft’s board earlier this month.

Forbes has estimated Mr Stanton’s wealth around the $US1 billion mark, despite an investment in US wireless broadband network Clearwire going south.

The Seattle-based Trilogy owns 58% of 2degrees, having earlier gained Overseas Investment Office approval to lift its stake as high as 100%. Trilogy alumni and appointees control key executive positions.

Beyond his company’s New Zealand foray Mr Stanton led four of the top wireless operators in the US over the past three decades, and operated wireless networks in Europe, Africa, Central and South America. During the 1980s, he served as chief operating officer and vice chairman of McCaw Cellular where he met Craig McCaw, a legendary buccaneer of the early US mobile scene with whom he would later collaborate on other startups (today, Mr McCaw is worth around $US13 billion).

From 1992 to 2005 he served as chairman and chief executive officer of Western Wireless Corp. Between 1995 and 2003, he served as chairman and chief executive of VoiceStream Wireless, which was acquired by Deutsche Telekom and subsequently renamed T-Mobile USA. He also served as director and later chairman of Clearwire, a brave WiMax experiment whose backers included Intel, Warner and Google, from 2008 to 2013 (Clearwire was brought out by Sprint, primarily for its spectrum).

Mr Stanton said in a statement, “I’m happy to be joining Microsoft at such a pivotal moment in the company’s history. I’m excited to have the opportunity to help shape Microsoft’s future.”

For the next six months, a lot of that shaping will be done with an axe.

The company is currently undergoing a restructure under new CEO Satya Nadella, who wants to lay off 18,000 staff, or about 15% of Microsoft’s global workforce.

The bright spot for remaining staff is that the restructure is being made from a position of relative strength. Microsoft’s net income for its fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30 was $US4.6 billion (a 7% dip on the year-ago quarter but not bad given a $US700 million wallop associated with its Nokia acquisition). Revenues rose to $US23.4 billion from $US19.9 billion. Look for less emphasis on Windows and more on the company’s fast-growing cloud business.

It will be one of the most keenly-watched restructures in the US corporate landscape, and 2degrees’ CEO Stewart Sherriff is correct to say a Microsoft board appointment carries a lot of prestige, and shows the respect his company’s founder is held in in North America. Just don’t ask him if 2degrees’ lineup is about to become dominated by Windows Phones (answer: no). 

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