The simmering dispute between the two shareholders of GrameenPhone, Norway’s Telenor (62%) and Bangladesh’s Grameen Telecom (38%), is about more than business and money–it’s about national identity.
GrameenPhone is extremely successful in doing business in Bangladesh, with the previous Red and Green logo. The previous logo was consistent with Bangladeshi Flag. So now the necessity of changing logo is yet to be justified. People of Bangladesh used to love the logo, the brand name. In Bangladesh, GrameenPhone is not just a mobile company, its more than that. It’s a story of connecting the rural people with the world, revolutionizing the communication in a country like Bangladesh, contributing to the society in various helpful ways.
Meanwhile, Norway’s Aftenposten reported the day before the Nobel award that the dispute over majority control was not a clear-cut case, and was causing “embarrassment” for Norway’s politicians (Telenor Conflict Puts a Damper on Peace Prize Ceremony):
One of the co-founders of GrameenPhone supported Telenor, telling newspaper Dagens NÃ¦ringsliv over the weekend that the firm’s shareholder agreement was “vague.” He also said that Grameen Bank failed to buy additional shares in GrameenPhone when offered them and didn’t protest when Telenor bought them up and raised its initial stake of 51 percent to the 62 percent it holds today.
Several Norwegian politicians have called the conflict “embarrassing” and the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee tried to keep it off of the agenda at a press conference on Saturday.
I realize this is inside baseball, but it is highly unusual to have a Nobel award ceremony devolve into mulitnational boardroom politics. And I must say that when researching my book, the issue of Telenor’s “intention” to reduce its shareholding to 35% was a very loose thread, which now appears will shortly be snipped off or tied up.