Vodafone chief Nick Read will exit the company at the end of December as its share price continues to plunge and investors are left increasingly disgruntled.
After four years at the top spot, Read steered Vodafone through the pandemic, narrowing the company’s focus on Europe and Africa, and cutting costs.
Nonetheless, telecom expert at CCS Insight Kester Mann said the departure comes as “no massive surprise” for the sector as pressure builds from vexed shareholders, who are longing to see more bang for their buck.
Vodafone’s share price has fallen more than 60 per cent over the past five years, and plunged by about a fifth this year alone compared with a two per cent gain in the FTSE 100.
In recent months, Read has shifted the telecom giant’s focus onto mergers and acquisitions, recently agreeing a co-control deal for its towers business and continuing discussions with Three UK.
However, the company’s weak performance in its largest market Germany and lacklustre appetite for deals in Spain, Italy and Portugal have all spelled danger for Read.
Mann warned the new CEO will need to grapple with geopolitical uncertainty, rising costs, and tougher regulation.
Head of Mobile at Enders Analysis Karen Egan was also unsurprised by Read’s departure, but told City A.M. that whoever replaces him must come from outside of the Vodafone bubble to bring a “fresh approach for a complete rethink”.
Analysts at investment bank Berenberg said: “One of the reasons why we are surprised by today’s news is that it’s not clear what any new CEO would really do differently to Mr Read, other than risk a ‘fire sale’ of assets.”
The British company said chief financial officer Margherita Della Valle will take on the role on an interim basis and alongside her current duties while it hunts for a new boss.
Vodafone chairman Jean-François van Boxmeer said: “Margherita has recently been taking a broader operational role within the company and the board fully supports her as interim group chief executive.”
Outgoing chief 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.”