CEO Vittorio Colao, who is credited with transforming the telecoms group, will soon pass the baton to his CFO and protégé, Nick Read.
Colao, whom Vodafone Chairman Gerard Kleisterlee called a “strategic visionary”, led major changes during his 10-year tenure. Most notable was the 2013 sale of Vodafone’s 45% stake in Verizon Wireless to U.S. telecoms group Verizon Communications for $130 billion, marking its exit from the U.S. Colao also pushed digital technology and enterprise solutions. “We have taken a company which was mostly consumer, mostly mobile, very spread with a lot of minorities, and have turned it into a powerhouse of convergence, with only controlled or co-controlled companies and a very strong enterprise business,” Colao said.
When Colao steps down in October, he will be succeeded by Nick Read, who has served as Vodafone’s Chief Financial Officer since 2014. Read joined the company in 2001, and has held various C-suite roles, including CFO, CCO and CEO of the UK operating company Vodafone Ltd. Prior to being appointed group CFO, he was the regional CEO for Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. He also sat on the boards of Vodafone’s listed operations in Africa and Qatar, subsidiaries in India and Egypt, and joint venture in Australia.
Read’s broad international background will be a key asset, as he will lead what is one of the world's biggest telecoms companies, with 536 million mobile customers and €47 billion ($56 billion) in revenue. In reference to Vodafone’s succession plan, analysts say investors should be reassured by the new CEO’s experience with both the British operations and emerging markets.
The CEO succession comes amidst important changes at Vodafone. It recently struck an €18.4 billion ($21.8 billion) deal with American telecoms group Liberty Global to acquire its cable TV and broadband networks in Germany and Eastern Europe. In India, a market which Vodafone entered in 2007, it is merging operations with Mumbai-based mobile operator Idea Cellular. “With the Liberty deal announced and India set to close, [Colao] leaves behind a strategically well-positioned portfolio for his successor Nick Read, who we think is a safe pair of hands,” analysts at Bernstein said.
In Read, investors will get a chief executive “groomed for the job,” according to Reuters. Read said he worked alongside Colao on reshaping Vodafone, and will deliver the benefits for shareholders and customers. “I think now is the time to really focus on our organic plan, really focusing on digital transformation of our business and the customer experience,” he told reporters. “And of course there’s a big opportunity of integrating these new businesses, both Liberty and over in India.”