Vodafone CEO Nick Read will step down from his position at the end of the year. Margherita Della Valle will take over at the helm of the telco on an interim basis.
It was confirmed Read, who has been in post for four years, confirmed he would be leaving the company in a short statement to shareholders released this morning. He will leave the post at the end of the month and remain available as an adviser to the company’s board until the end of March.
Vodafone CEO departs after 21 years at the company
Read has been with Vodafone for 21 years, taking over as CEO in 2018.
“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,” Read said. “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.”
Della Valle, the company’s CFO, has been appointed interim group chief executive, and has been tasked with “accelerating the execution of the company’s strategy to improve operational performance and deliver shareholder value.” She will also continue as CFO.
“On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Nick for his commitment and significant contribution to Vodafone as group chief executive and throughout his career spanning more than two decades with the company,” said Jean-François van Boxmeer, chairman of Vodafone.
“During his four years as CEO, he led Vodafone through the pandemic, ensuring that our customers remained connected with their families and businesses. He has focused Vodafone in Europe and Africa as a converged connectivity provider and led the industry in Europe in unlocking value from tower infrastructure.
“Margherita has recently been taking a broader operational role within the company and the board fully supports her as interim group chief executive.”
Will change at the top impact Vodafone’s planned merger with Three?
During Read’s time at the helm, Vodafone’s share price has dropped by more than 40%. The outgoing CEO has been trying to cut the company’s debt and refocus it to meet the needs of a changing telecoms sector which is now more crowded than ever, with software-defined networks and the advent of 5G having catapulted the cloud hyperscalers into the market as both suppliers and competitors for traditional networks.
Recently he oversaw the sale of part of Vodafone’s stake in phone mast business Vantage Towers, creating a new joint venture with KKR and Global Infrastructure Partners which could eventually net Vodafone up to €7.1bn.
Whether the change at the top will impact proposals to merge Vodafone in the UK with another network, Three, is currently unknown. The two companies announced they were in talks in October and had hoped to conclude a deal by the end of the year, but this has not been sealed.
Joining forces would enable Vodafone and Three to compete with the two larger players in the UK mobile market, BT’s EE network and Virgin Media O2. Speaking to Tech Monitor in October, telecoms analyst Paolo Pescatore said the deal made more sense for Three than Vodafone, as the former does not have a position in the fixed-line broadband market. But, he said, “a marriage of convenience makes sense given the rapidly converged landscape”.
Kester Mann, director of consumer and connectivity at CCS Insight, said Read’s departure was “not a massive surprise” given the company’s falling valuation, which has irked shareholders.
“During the latter part of his tenure, Mr Read increasingly sought mergers and acquisitions,” Mann said. “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.”
He said Read “will be remembered for steering Vodafone through the pandemic, narrowing the company’s focus on Europe and Africa, championing the telecoms sector among regulators, seeking a tighter grip on costs, and spinning off its towers business”.
Mann added: “Although only CEO for four years, Read has been at Vodafone for over 20 years. It may have been that a fresh perspective on the embattled company was considered the best way forward. However, the new CEO will face the same tough inbox, with geopolitical uncertainty, rising costs, tough regulation, strong competition and questions over return on investment for the sector high on his or her agenda.”