Stephen Brewer interview: ‘I was on the board of Apple when I was a kid, really’ (video)
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In the 1990s as CEO of Eircell (now Vodafone) Stephen Brewer masterminded the country’s love affair with mobile phones. Ireland was one of the first countries in the world to launch prepay and Brewer competed aggressively with Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone. Today, he is back in Ireland to help the next wave of entrepreneurs take on the world.
Speaking to Stephen Brewer ahead of Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016, where 18 Irish mobile technology start-ups will form part of the Enterprise Ireland presence, it is hard not to be in awe of the fact that Brewer has been part of the mobile revolution from the very start.
In fact, it goes back further than that. Brewer and his late brother Michael also played a part in kickstarting the personal computer revolution by showing the entrepreneurial chutzpah and zeal that saw the first Apple computers arrive in Europe in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In Ireland, Brewer could be considered one of the founding fathers of the mobile industry, and he was a colourful presence in the marketing battles and customer grabs that characterised mobile in turn-of-the-century Ireland.
In the late 1990s, Brewer, as CEO of Eircell, sparked an intense battle with Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone and, in the process, Ireland’s mobile economy was born. Despite their intense rivalry at that pivotal time in Irish communications history, Brewer and O’Brien grew to become friends and Brewer later went on to work at O’Brien’s Digicel empire in the Caribbean.
The dawn of Ireland’s mobile revolution
At Eircell, then a Telecom Eireann (now Eir) subsidiary, Brewer grew the network from 100,000 mostly analogue 088 users to more than 1m digital GSM users on 087 before the company was sold to Vodafone in late 2000. In 1997, he scored a major coup by launching one of the world’s first prepay services, Ready to Go.
Recalling his arrival in Ireland, he said the timing was perfect because the Celtic Tiger economy was about to explode, young people had money in their pockets and people were about to purchase their first mobile phones. “It was a great opportunity and I came here open-eyed.