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The Telecommunications Tycoon: Terry Matthews Takes Off
Acknowledging that importing lawnmowers was not going to be his ticket to success, Matthews shifted Mitel's focus. Now, the company was going to make integrated circuits and private switchboards (PBX), based off of Cowpland's PhD thesis. With the introduction of the touch tone receiver, as well as the PBX call routing system, Mitel revolutionized the telecommunications industry.
"We set it up with $4,000 of borrowed money and now it's making $1.5 billion revenues," says Matthews. "It doubled its revenues every year for the first 11 years and generally in electronics a successful company can do that and remain stable. Anything above that can be unstable."
In 1982, after the breakup of AT&T, Mitel began to suffer. Matthews sold 51 percent of the company to British Telecom, but by that time he was already a multi-millionaire. Still, Matthews saw the potential growth in data networking over voice networking and wanted to take the company in that direction. BT, however, was not so sure and, with the majority stake in Mitel, effectively forced Matthews out of the very company he had founded. Ironically, Matthews would return to Mitel in 2000 and turn it into a successful broadband communications company.
Not one to waste any time, Matthews founded Newbridge Networks just a year later. Newbridge quickly went to work in becoming experts in the field of voice switching and software engineering. In 2000, Newbridge would be purchased by Alcatel for over seven billion in stock, making Matthews the single largest shareholder in Alcatel.
"In my career, I have started up around 40 companies and I have lost only two," Matthews once said, "when the normal success rate is one in 10, and some of them have had absolutely staggering success." Indeed, over the past 40 years, Matthews used a unique strategy of building up his own technology and telecommunications businesses and selling them on, on top of providing the seed money and expertise for other spin-offs and start-ups.
Now, as a British Knight as well as a billionaire, Matthews continues to serve as founder and chairman of Wesley Clover, an investment firm with investments in telecommunications, real estate and leisure, as well as being directly involved in a handful of other companies - all focused on next generation technologies that Matthews believes will give him his next success.
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