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Sarin to step down from Vodafone helm

After five years of leading Vodafone, Arun Sarin is to hand over the reins to his current deputy, Vittorio Colao, at the end of July
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The world's largest mobile operator group, Vodafone, has announced the departure of its chief executive, Arun Sarin.

Sarin (pictured), who has been in the role for five years, will be replaced at the end of July by his current deputy, Vittorio Colao. Sarin's tenure has seen Vodafone's worldwide customer base more than double, and its dividends quadruple.

"Arun has done a tremendous job as chief executive," said Vodafone chairman Sir John Bond on Tuesday. "He has led the company with distinction and navigated Vodafone through a period of rapid change. He has developed a new strategy for the business and significantly expanded our footprint in emerging markets."

Sarin praised his successor, saying he knows "the business is in capable hands with Vittorio Colao". "Having worked with him for many years, I know that he has the experience and vision to take Vodafone on to future success," he added.

"Sarin has shepherded Vodafone through its difficult teenage years, including the aftermath of the 3G licence debacle and the tech bust of the early 2000s," said Ovum analyst Jeremy Green on Tuesday. "He has managed to go out on a high note, with the group's performance beating its guidance in terms of revenue (£35.5bn versus forecasts of between £34.5 and £35.1bn), adjusted operating profit (£10.1bn versus forecasts of between £9.5 and £9.9bn) and free cash flow (£5.5bn versus forecasts of between £4.4 and £4.9bn)."

Under Sarin's stewardship, Vodafone got rid of its businesses in mature markets like Japan and Sweden, and expanded into countries like Romania, the Czech Republic, Turkey and India.

"The group has thus continued to deliver growth in the manner of a Californian surfer, tracking up and down the coast in search of wherever the best waves are breaking," said Green. "It has bought into fast-growing markets, and this has allowed it to deliver continuing revenue growth."

Green, however, said it would be simplistic to suggest Vodafone had simply pulled out of more mature markets because of slowing growth.

"Vodafone has remained resolutely committed to its mature markets in Europe," he claimed. "Its withdrawals have been from those operators where it does not have a controlling interest. This suggests that it has a really strong position on how to get the most from mature markets, and that this is mainly about using the scale of the group as a whole to cut both operating and capital expenses. The absence of control means that this model can't be fully applied — hence the exits."

Sarin's leadership at Vodafone has not gone unchallenged, as in 2006 he faced — and survived — a shareholder rebellion.

One of his most lasting legacies, however, may be his decision to streamline Vodafone's number of targeted mobile platforms down to just three: Windows Mobile, Symbian/Series 60 and Linux. Vodafone's leading role in the LiMo Foundation, the mobile-Linux industry consortium, has provided one of the best chances for open-source software gaining a hold on the handset.

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