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It's clear why Vodafone conquered Mannesmann. Vodafone won because it paid to win, using its powerful stock. Its shareholders supported its share price and thereby its bid because they believed its story: that big is best in the globalizing telecoms game. And they feared failure might burst the telecoms bubble. What's less understood is how Mannesmann lost. It gave away the early momentum through bungling, suffered splits in its defence advisory team, and came within an inch of winning the hand of a French rescuer, only to hesitate. Klaus Esser made Mannesmann a top company, but his risk-taking triggered this contest and shaped its outcome. We also reveal the battle that raged beneath the surface between Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley during the biggest hostile takeover of all time. Marcus Walker reports