Sir Christopher Gent, chief executive officer of Vodafone Group [NYSE: VOD], has announced his intention to step down in July 2003, after having seen his company’s stock valuation slide from a June 2000 high of USD326.9 billion, to just USD120 billion today. Since his appointment in 1997 Gent has helped build the company into the world’s largest cellular operator with 107.54 million proportionate subscribers by end-September 2002. However, Vodafone’s phenomenal growth was bought at a high premium. The CEO presided over more than USD200 billion worth of acquisitions in largely saturated mobile markets, but his policy attracted criticism from investors who questioned how he could drive growth at a time of ongoing delays in the delivery of new, next-generation services. In the current difficult trading climate the wireless operator finds itself battling against slowing growth, forcing the Vodafone board to take action.
Sir Christopher is one of the longest-standing CEOs in the beleaguered telecoms sector, having survived continued controversy arising from his high remuneration package and having escaped the fate of the likes of Ron Sommer at Deutsche Telekom, France Télécom’s Michel Bon and BT’s Sir Peter Bonfield, who were sacked after overspending on telecoms assets and 3G licences. However, it would appear that in light of its troubles Vodafone’s priorities have changed. Earlier this year Sir Christopher indicated his desire to be running the company for at least the next few years to oversee the introduction of UMTS services. However, Vodafone’s press statement now says the supremo has ‘expressed his wish to retire in the latter half of 2003’. His successor has been named as Arun Sarin, who was the chief operating officer of AirTouch Communications when Vodafone acquired it in 1999. Sarin, currently the CEO of San Francisco-based Accel-KKR Telecom, will join the Vodafone board on 1 April as chief executive designate.