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Vodafone CEO Nick Read steps down

As telco operator battles with delivering shareholder value, it has decided it needs a new CEO

Vodafone group CEO Nick Read will step down on 31 December. The telco operator announced that CFO Margherita Della Valle has been appointed interim group chief executive, while the board looks to initiate the process of finding a new group chief executive.

Read said: “It has been a privilege to spend over 20 years of my career at Vodafone and I am proud of what we have delivered for customers and society across Europe and Africa. I agreed with the board that now is the right moment to hand over to a new leader who can build on Vodafone’s strengths and capture the significant opportunities ahead.”

During his four years as CEO, Read led Vodafone through the Covid pandemic, ensuring that its customers remained connected with their families and businesses. He also focused on building out Vodafone in Europe and Africa as a converged connectivity provider and began the process of offloading ownership of the company’s tower infrastructure.

In November, during the company’s half-year earnings call, Read warned of the need for cost saving going forward. “We are taking a number of steps to mitigate the economic backdrop of high energy costs and rising inflation,” he said. “These include taking pricing action across Europe, while at the same time supporting our most vulnerable customers and driving energy-efficiency measures across the business.”

Commenting on the changes at Vodafone, Kester Mann, director of consumer and connectivity at CCS Insight, said: “Nick Read’s departure is no massive surprise – he had come under growing pressure from disgruntled shareholders amid disappointing stock performance. During the latter part of his tenure, he increasingly sought mergers and acquisitions. Vodafone recently agreed a co-control deal for its towers business and is in discussions with Three UK. But deals in targeted markets such as Spain, Italy and Portugal have so far proved elusive.”

Mann believes the new CEO will face the same business challenges as Read, and said his successor will need to deal with “geopolitical uncertainty, rising costs, tough regulation, strong competition and questions over return on investment for the sector high on his or her agenda”.

In October, Vodafone confirmed that it was in discussions with Three UK parent company CK Hutchison Holdings in relation to a possible combination of businesses in a bid to accelerate the roll-out of 5G mobile networking and improve competitiveness. The transaction would involve both companies combining their UK businesses, with Vodafone owning 51%, and CK Hutchison owning 49% of the combined business.

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