During the dot-com boom, Morgan Stanley telecommunications and media specialist Jean Abergel earned a reputation for pursuing deals with a single-mindedness that left little room for outside interests. Now married with a daughter and a decade into his second posting with the U.S. bank, where he’s global co-head of media and communications, Abergel has found a healthier balance. But he’s lost none of his intensity as he steers clients through a revival in European telecom M&A.
“He’s relentless and prepared to put himself on the line internally and externally for his clients,” says Dexter Goei, CEO of Luxembourg-based cable and telecom provider Altice and Abergel’s former co-head of European media and communications at Morgan Stanley. That approach gets results for Abergel, who assumed his current role in 2011 with Max Herrnstein and Adam Shepard. Morgan Stanley has worked on nine of the ten biggest technology, media and telecom transactions announced since February 2013. Among them are a handful of U.S. megadeals: The bank is advising Time Warner Cable on a proposed $45.2 billion acquisition by Comcast Corp. and helped Verizon Communications with its $130 billion purchase of U.K. mobile operator Vodafone Group’s 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless.
Much of the telecom action is in Europe, where London-based Abergel, 45, works with clients as he helps oversee Morgan Stanley’s media and communications division worldwide. “In many European countries the market structure creates a very challenging environment for mobile operators to earn adequate returns, and that is driving in-market consolidation,” he says.
Abergel is representing Vodafone on its pending $10 billion acquisition of Spanish cable company ONO. He led the Morgan Stanley team that advised Altice, owned by French entrepreneur Patrick Drahi, on its recent winning €17 billion ($23.3 billion) play for SFR, the mobile division of Paris-based media conglomerate Vivendi. Altice fought off competition from France’s Bouygues Telecom, whose bid had broad public support. “We made the early decision to back Patrick, who was not well known in France at the time, in what turned out to be a highly contested, large, complex, public situation,” Abergel recalls.
Drahi sealed his victory on April 7, after Vivendi accepted €13.5 billion in cash and 20 percent of the company created by merging Altice’s Numericable Group with SFR. Morgan Stanley has lent to him for almost a decade, and the relationship has strengthened since Goei became CEO of Altice in 2009.
Abergel, a French national who grew up in Casablanca, Morocco, says his engineering degree from École Centrale Paris gave him a good technical grounding for his current work. After graduating in 1991 he started out as a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton in Paris. He earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1995, following a summer internship at Morgan Stanley.
Abergel then joined Morgan Stanley’s London office as an associate in investment banking, just when the firm was setting up a dedicated telecom team. He worked on the industry’s first big wave of mergers, a job that culminated in his representation of Germany’s Mannesmann in the largest-ever telecom M&A deal, a hostile $200 billion takeover by Vodafone in 2000. That year Abergel left banking to work in Stockholm as CFO of B2 Bredband, a Swedish broadband start-up that he planned to guide to an initial public offering. But the dot-com bubble burst, so B2 raised $200 million privately, he says, noting that his time as a client made him a wiser banker.
In 2002 he returned to Paris for a stint as a director at investment bank Lazard; two years later he rejoined Morgan Stanley, where he was named co-head of European media in 2008. Abergel, who expects Europe’s telecom surge to continue, is reminded of his first tour at Morgan Stanley, with the difference that today’s companies are better capitalized and valuations are still mostly reasonable. “This is the busiest we have been since the TMT boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s,” he says.
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