Nick Read will step down as head of Vodafone by the end of the year and be replaced on an interim basis by his finance director, bringing an end to a four-year tenure marked by a near halving of its share price. Read led the former mobile telecoms market leader through the pandemic and also sold assets to increase its focus on Europe and Africa while spinning off its towers infrastructure business into a separate unit.
Despite the changes Vodafone’s shares have remained in the doldrums. They are down more than 40% since Read took over in October 2018, trading at the same level as two decades ago. Only last month Vodafone cut its full-year outlook, citing soaring energy costs and deteriorating performance in its big European markets of Germany, Italy and Spain.
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“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,” he said in a statement. Shares in the company were up 1.6% in early trade.
Read will be replaced on an interim basis by Margherita Della Valle, who has been tasked with accelerating “the execution of the company’s strategy to improve operational performance and deliver shareholder value”.The board has begun a process to find a new chief executive, the company said.
“The next question is what solutions are really available to the next CEO? Vodafone faces intractable headwinds. We think dividend policy should be treated as under review,” Jefferies analysts wrote.Read has been a cheerleader for consolidation in Vodafone’s major European markets, including Britain, Spain, Italy and Portugal, but has struggled to turn intention into action.
In February he rejected an offer of more than 11 billion euros ($11.15 billion) for its Italian business from Iliad and Apax Partners, and in July two of its rivals in Spain – Orange and MasMovil – agreed a $19 billion merger.