Less than a year ago, Eutelsat was a balky European satellite consortium owned by the Continent's largest telephone monopolies. Today, it's approaching its first anniversary as a private company and gaining ground on rivals such as SES Astra through aggressive investment in new technology. By this fall, Paris-based Eutelsat is aiming for an initial public offering that could raise more than $1 billion for further expansion.
Pushing Eutelsat into a higher orbit earns a star for CEO Giuliano Berretta. Since taking the helm of the world's No. 4 satellite operator in 1999, the Italian-born executive has revamped operations, exited conventional telephony, and beefed up Eutelsat's TV business. That helped drive revenues to a record $600 million last year, up 13%, with eye-popping profits of $285 million. He also managed to avoid the expensive flops, such as Iridium and Astrolink, that hammered rivals. "We're not into making crazy investments," he says.
Berretta does have a bold gambit in mind, though. Over the next few years, he aims to turn Eutelsat into a carrier of high-speed Internet traffic. Satellite-based services could provide Net access in Web-starved regions such as Africa and Latin America. What's more, satellites are better suited for broadcasting than fiber-optic systems, so Berretta's plan could help the Web grow into a true video network. To get there, Eutelsat is launching seven new satellites by the end of 2003 and seeding software startups.
Pretty visionary stuff, but Berretta has been working toward it his whole career. Now 61, he studied electronics at Padua University and then mastered radio technology at Italian aerospace company Selenia before a long stint with the European Space Agency in Paris. He joined Eutelsat in 1990 to help it land commercial contracts. Who would have known he'd turn it into such a hot property?