Eaton Towers hires ex-Millicom man as CFO

African tower management firm Eaton Towers on Monday announced the immediate appointment of Peter Lewis as CFO. Lewis joins the company from emerging markets operator Millicom International Cellular (MIC), where he held the post of treasurer and head of corporate finance.

In an exclusive interview with Lewis spoke about his part in the major restructuring of Millicom from a market capitalisation of $20m in 2002 to $10bn in 2010, by which time he was raising around $500m per year to support the firm’s operations.

Towards the end of that period, the operator’s focus was on Africa as that’s where most networks were still being built out. Much of Latin America had already passed that stage and there were also businesses in Africa that had not experienced much in terms of development.

“In Africa heavy buildouts were required for towers. So you had to look at the options, and you saw in India there were these tower companies that were being established. So we thought about how this could be relevant to the African business,” he said. Lewis championed the concept of tower sharing internally at Millicom, saying that at first it was a hard sell because no one had done anything like this before, although there was an element of caution mixed with the potential of first mover advantage. “Fortunately we had more of an entrepreneurial culture,” he said.

Lewis was instrumental in the sale of Millicom’s towers to Helios in Ghana, and noted that at the time, the big question mark over Eaton was the lack of funding. This is an issue the company addressed in October with equity funding worth $150m from Capital International Private Equity Funds (CIPEF), a private equity investor focused on emerging markets. It will also be Lewis’s task going forward, but he believes there are funding opportunities.

“There is appetite for equity from institutional investors because there are lots of appealing growth markets in Africa, also development institutions, which are often government backed, are very active,” Lewis said. “Then you’ve got local liquidity from banks using their deposits to fund their lending and offshore debt, which has been more challenging, but is more tax efficient and provides longer lending periods.”

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