Wind Mobile CEO Tony Lacavera | BCBusiness
Tony Lacavera speaks at a Toronto launch event
After two years in purgatory, Wind is ready to grow its network once more
If there was one message Tony Lacavera, CEO and founder of Wind Mobile, wanted to get across in an interview with BCBusiness, it’s that his company is here to stay.
This follows two tumultuous years of uncertainty, as its previous majority shareholder, a Russian-Dutch company called VimpelCom, looked to offload its stake in Wind. (VimpelCom acquired its unwanted shares when it bought Orascom, the original financer of Wind.) Last week it was announced that Lacavera, along with Canadian private equity firm West Face Capital, had bought VimpelCom’s stake for $135 million—though they’ll also assume $150 million in debt.
According to Lacavera, this means his company can finally start expanding its network again, after its Canadian expansion was stuck in a state of purgatory for two years, calling into question Wind’s ability to become a real fourth wireless player (an alternative to Rogers, Bell and Telus)—something the federal Conservative government has been advocating aggressively.
For British Columbians—particularly those outside Vancouver, Wind’s second largest market after Toronto—this could mean a new, contract-free wireless option will be coming to your city in the near future.
On a drizzly Tuesday afternoon, BCBusiness sat down with Lacavera in one of Wind’s downtown Vancouver stores, this one on Thurlow Street, a stone’s throw from Robson. And there’s a reason for that.
This real estate versus storefront on Robson is a different price point. But we’re close. We’ve got a location that’s basically on the corner. But the price point enables us to be where we are in the marketplace. We attract the value-conscious consumer. We’re good value for your money. Not the fastest network, not the biggest network—good value for your money. And this store location is indicative of our entire brand promise.
This is the kind of retail presence we need, though, because our larger competitor across the street has this kind of presence. I know I’m pointing to a Banana Republic (he laughs), but wherever there’s a Rogers on Robson.
And what can we expect from Wind now that you have control of the company?
Obviously we need to strengthen the network, not necessarily downtown Vancouver, but as you get south to Surrey clearly we still have some towers we need to build. That’s going to be a focus now in the coming months. The same applies in other markets. In Edmonton and Calgary we have spots we still need to fill in. We’ve been unable to invest materially in the network over the last couple of years.
What plans do you have for B.C. specifically?
We’ve done all the site surveys in Abbotsford, but we need coverage to be much better to include them in the network. I just saw a plan for Kelowna in the office, which is a whole other market basically. It’s a market like London, Ont.—isolated, an hour drive to anything significant. Smaller than London, but geographically much bigger, so it’s a challenge because that’s the whole equation in our business. If you can put up one tower, it’s about an eight-kilometre radius around it. If you have a thousand people, that’s better than 10 people. And so the economics start to fall off. That said, we think that those markets are going to be very good for us. We already have sites on-air in Whistler. Even though it’s very small, we think it’s a good market for us. Victoria is a logical next market. But there’s no point in opening a store in Abbotsford or wherever if the network’s not great. People won’t buy from us again. We have one shot.
After two years of uncertainty, how does it feel coming out the other end intact?
My friend at Rogers, he’s like, I thought we were going to break Wind. There’s been so much speculation. Imagine working here, these people (he points to his staff) and customers. We have 1,100 employees—so much uncertainty for two years. But we didn’t have higher turnover in the last two years than before. I’m proud of that. And our customers stuck with us despite reading in the newspaper or online that, oh, the company may or may not stay, Wind may not be around. People stuck with us. I appreciate that a lot.
Wind’s here to stay—for like the 500th time.