Mr Alierta found his chair comfortable

SIXTEEN years was surely too long for anyone to remain as boss of Spain’s largest telecoms company, Telefónica. During his spell in charge, César Alierta, 70, who at last agreed to hang up his receiver this week, created a giant. Telefónica expanded far and wide in Latin America and Europe, yet the benefits to shareholders were hard to see.

A former stockbroker who was famously fond of cigars, Mr Alierta became one of the most powerful businessmen in Spain. Under his guidance, Telefónica’s debt-fuelled expansion mirrored Spain’s own overheated economic boom and subsequent slump. Early on he had shown caution: his tenure began with his cleaning up the mess that resulted from Telefónica’s dud investments during the dotcom bubble. Then, like bosses at other big Spanish firms such as Santander, a bank, Mr Alierta was tempted to splurge. Telefónica bought BellSouth’s Latin American mobile operations in 2004; acquired O2, a British telecoms firm, in 2006; and invested in China. By 2007 its market value exceeded €100 billion ($150 billion).

Its heft did help…Continue reading