Vodafone Starts Hunt for New Chairman

Sir John Bond is preparing to step down as Vodafone’schairman, with the UK mobile phone group hoping to appoint a successor by next year’s annual meeting.

Sharon Lorimer

Sir John’s impending departure follows renewed shareholder unrest about Vodafone’s strategy and acquisitions.

Investor criticism has focused on Sir John after shareholders led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan failed to remove him at Vodafone’s annual meeting in July.

One person familiar with the situation said Vodafone’s decision to start to look for a new chairman was made before Ontario Teachers’ intervention, but added that the investor criticism had brought “a bit of urgency” to the move.

Sir John, a former chairman of HSBC, had told colleagues he had always intended to stay at Vodafone for six years, this person said. He joined as a non-executive director in 2005, and became chairman in 2006.

Vodafone declined to comment on Sir John’s position as chairman. Sir John told the group’s annual meeting in July that Vodafone had succession plans in place for all its board members, including himself.

Ontario Teachers’ attack on Vodafone’s “disastrous” acquisitions record and “strategic weaknesses” emphasizes that Sir John’s successor will be under pressure to improve relations with shareholders.

Four years ago, Sir John played an important role placating investors who objected to the strategy pursued by Arun Sarin, then Vodafone’s chief executive.

But during the past year, Sir John’s relations with some investors have deteriorated, partly because of intensifying investor impatience over Vodafone’s minority stakes.

Vodafone owns a 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless, the leading US mobile operator, but has not received a dividend since 2005. Verizon Communications, the US telecoms group which owns the rest of Verizon Wireless, is blocking pay-outs.