Our year together

Fiona Crosbie and Iňaki Berroeta

They worked together on the Vodafone/TPG case described by the ACCC as its most important merger litigation in a decade. Neither of them could have known just how critical a role the newly merged company could play in keeping Australians and the economy connected in 2020.


Fiona: Iñaki was a true believer in the merger right from the start – his passion for Vodafone and his vision for the combination was obvious to anyone who worked with him at that time. When the ACCC knocked back the merger, we came in to lead the challenge against them. The stakes were high and the court timetable was brutal.

Iñaki is a very creative thinker with a seemingly endless supply of ideas. We'd have strategy meetings and Iñaki would be full of suggestions; all of them interesting, some of them brilliant but others, better left to another day, given the pressure we were under. As a legal adviser, one needs to be open to the unexpected angles and of course respectful but also, occasionally, a bit tough. It's fun to work with such people who know they are clever and intense, yet still trust us to get on with things. It's very rewarding.

Of course, little things go wrong on matters like this. But Iñaki never overreacted. He has a way of bouncing back from disappointment very quickly. He has this capacity to canvas views, take in the facts, make a decision and move on. 

Preparing an important witness can be demanding. It is often said that anyone in the witness box long enough, will reveal their essential character. Iñaki has a very high EQ and likes working things out strategically and psychologically, always marshalling the facts and presenting them persuasively. This is what makes him such a great CEO but, in the box, he had to relinquish that. Stating only the facts and not the story behind them was a shift for Iñaki, but he adjusted his style to the circumstances. 

The judgment was a huge moment for both of us – not just because we won, but because of the way we won. In a case like this you want your executives to emerge as capable straight-shooters, with their reputations intact, and ideally, to be left with a sense that at a personal level it was a good experience. I think we achieved that, and so far as the outcome itself was concerned, the victory was comprehensive: the Court granted the declaration sought – that the transaction wouldn't substantially lessen competition – and went further suggesting the transaction would enhance competition. That was a dream result.


Iñaki: At the start of the merger process I had no idea I’d spend so much time with our legal team and Allens to get competition clearance. The ACCC’s reaction to the merger wasn't something I ever expected, given it was very clear to us that the merger wouldn’t substantially lessen competition. In fact, we believed the opposite, and the court ended up firmly agreeing with us! There was a lot riding on my testimony, especially for our customers, so it was a lot of pressure. I felt very well prepared by Fiona and the team but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous.

Fiona is very pragmatic and strategic. She and the team made excellent tactical decisions about how to approach the case. She is a great communicator and I always knew what we were doing and why. I trusted her judgement.

It’s almost impossible to summarise 2020 in one neat sentence because it has been such a different experience for everyone depending on their circumstances. The pandemic has been a very stressful and challenging year for many people who have lost work and income, while for others there have been a lot of positives from changing the way we work, such as more time with family.

As a telco, our role in keeping people connected to the things that are important to them has been more critical than ever. The pandemic has reinforced the need for strong, resilient, agile companies with the ability to support Australians’ needs, and our merger means we now play an even bigger role in that.

Achieving clearance on the merger was one of the highlights of 2020! I was excited that we could move forward with our plans to be a stronger competitor in the market. I was also extremely pleased for the many people who worked tirelessly for 18 months on the merger. 

When I consider that at the start of this year, we didn’t have certainty that the merger would be allowed to proceed - and COVID was a threat that hadn’t yet reached Australian shores - it has been a period of unprecedented change, and indeed transformation. 

Despite the distraction, I enjoyed the intellectual challenge and working with Fiona, Chris Prestwich and the whole Allens team was always an enjoyable experience.

Photo credit: Chris Hopkins, Sydney Morning Herald