Between 1998 and 2001, Stephen 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.
At Eircell, then a Telecom Eireann (now Eir) subsidiary, he grew the network from 100,000 mostly analogue 088 users to more than 1m digital users on GSM before the company was sold to Vodafone in late 2000.
A little-known fact about Brewer is that before he brought Ireland into the mobile revolution in the late 1990s, he played a definitive role in bringing Europe into the personal computing revolution in the 1980s.
After learning about the first Macintosh computers, Brewer and his brother Michael sold everything they had and flew to a trade show in New York to meet a little-known entrepreneur called Steve Jobs. After convincing Jobs to give them the first distributorship for Apple Computer in the UK, the Brewer brothers built up a thriving computer business that at its zenith had a turnover of over £20m before Apple acquired the company and Brewer joined the board of Apple during its pivotal early growth years.
After Eircell was sold to Vodafone in late 2000, Brewer went on to enjoy an international career with the company before finding himself in the Caribbean working at former rival Denis O’Brien’s Digicel international mobile empire.
Brewer talks to John Kennedy about how his career has gone full circle from the very first computers on people’s desks to the cloud-connected smartphones in everyone’s pocket, and how his passion today is advising and mentoring young Irish mobile start-ups, including iMob Media, gain global traction in the global mobile network business.
Words by John Kennedy