A number of UK firms are lining up places on Vodafone’s potential £2bn bid for T-Mobile UK, with Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Linklaters the names most clearly in the frame.
Both mobile companies have declined to comment on increasing market speculation about a possible merger, but Linklaters has had a firm grip on Vodafone’s major corporate work since advising on its record-breaking $120bn hostile bid for Mannesmann in 1999.
It has remained close to the company, acting on several recent deals. In 2007, corporate partner Iain Fenn represented Vodafone in its £9.77bn acquisition of India’s Hutchison Essar, while in 2006 the firm was instructed on the sale of Japanese internet service provider SoftBank.
Current senior partner David Cheyne advised on both the Mannesmann deal and the takeover of US company Airtouch in the same year.
One technology, media and telecoms partner at a rival firm said: “Linklaters made a shedload out of Vodafone when they were doing all their big M&A work. They made so much it became embarrassing.”
Another firm that has worked its ties with Vodafone is Osborne Clarke. It is less likely to be instructed on any billion-pound deal, but technology partner Simon Rendell was seconded to the company as acting UK head of legal in 2004, and the Bristol-headquartered firm has picked up a number of smaller transactions, such as a deal allowing Asda to use the Vodafone network in 2007.
The battle for the T-Mobile mandate is difficult to call, given the company’s lack of M&A activity over the past few years.
In 2005, Clifford Chance head of communications Joachim Fleury advised T-Mobile owner Deutsche Telekom on a deal to purchase Austria’s tele.ring for £890m. US firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has also acted for Deutsche, advising on its global bond issue in 2000. Finance partner Edward Greene led the London office team.
Company secretary James Blendis lists A&O as corporate counsel (the only other top-tier corporate firm Freshfields handles planning and litigation) but A&O has seen little M&A work for T-Mobile over the past few years.
With little big-ticket corporate work around, this will be a plum mandate.