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Hutchison chairman backs Vodafone Australia turnaround plan

Hutchison board director Barry Roberts-Thomson has said the board and chairman back the turnaround plan of troubled mobile telecommunications company Vodafone Australia, stating he expects that the company will begin to improve later this year.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

In an address to shareholders at Hutchison Telecom's annual general meeting on Thursday, board director Barry Roberts-Thomson expressed support for the troubled telco Vodafone Australia, which Hutchison has a 50 percent stake in, stating that the company is still suffering brand damage, but would likely improve later this year.

In February, Vodafone Australia reported an AU$817.6 million loss for 2012 and said it had shed 443,000 customers in the year, as the company continued to struggle following its infamous 3G network issues stemming back to 2010 and 2011.

Despite the company spending over AU$1 billion overhauling its 3G network and preparing for a 4G launch in June, the director said he expects those losses to continue for at least the next few months.

"[Vodafone] has made meaningful inroads in stabilising customer numbers and financial performance," he said. "Although continuing losses are anticipated in 2013, [Hutchison] expects improvements in VHA's performance through the year and into 2014."

The company has an AU$1.6 billion loan due next month, and, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, has an AU$750 million loan from its parent companies due in 2013, and another AU$1.7 billion due later this year. Fok Kin-ning said that both Hutchison and its fellow parent company Vodafone Group will continue to support Vodafone Australia.

"It is important to remind you that Hutchison, together with its joint shareholder, Vodafone, continues to support VHA, and we have fully endorsed the strategy to turn VHA's business around," he said.

"This strategy is for long-term improvement, and remains on track to return VHA to growth and profitability in the future."

In addition to network improvements, Vodafone is seeking to create a "worry free" service for customers where, if the network doesn't meet their expectations at signup, they're able to get out of their contract.

"Let's just be straight up with people. What happened, happened. We're not hiding behind anything. 2013 is about earning back trust," CEO Bill Morrow told journalists last month.

"There were reasons to put us into doubt as to whether we were a carrier of choice for many people, [but] so much has changed," he said.

The company has also undergone a significant restructure in the last 12 months, with Vodafone shedding about 45 percent of its workforce in the last 12 months and replacing two thirds of its executive team.

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