Vodafone CEO Sarin to be replaced by Colao

Vodafone Group CEO Arun Sarin will step down in July

Vodafone Group CEO Arun Sarin will step down from the top job at the mobile operator in July, the company says.

Sarin will leave the CEO's chair, a position he has occupied for the last five years, on July 28 at the company's annual general meeting, Vodafone says. He will be replaced by Vittorio Colao, the group's deputy CEO.

Vodafone also announced its full-year results, posting a £6.66 billion (US$13.1 billion) net profit for its fiscal 2008, compared to a loss of £4.93 billion for fiscal 2007.

Sarin was appointed CEO of Vodafone in July 2003, after serving as a non-executive director of the company. He also did a stint as CEO of Vodafone United States and Asia-Pacific. Sarin joined Vodafone in 1999, when the company acquired AirTouch Communications, where he served as president and CEO.

"Sarin has done a very good job, but has he done everything right? Of course not," says Martin Gutberlet, analyst at Gartner.

Gutberlet gives Sarin high marks for transforming Vodafone from a pure mobile operator into more of a service provider.

Under Sarin's tenure, Vodafone continued to expand its international reach, most recently with the acquisition of Indian operator Hutchison Essar, Gutberlet says. Fixed networks are also part of Vodafone's services now, he says.

Through this expansion, the number of Vodafone subscribers worldwide increased from 120 million to more than 260 million, Vodafone says.

Sarin received a lot of credit for his frank comments about what he thinks the vendors' development plans. At the Mobile World Congress in February, Sarin said WiMax and LTE (Long-Term Evolution) should be merged into one technology. Last year, Sarin challenged vendors to develop LTE faster.

Sarin's comments, along with other pressure from companies such as NTT Docomo and T-Mobile, lit a match under the vendor community resulting in faster LTE development, Gutberlet said.

Colao previously served as head of Vodafone Italy and regional CEO for Southern Europe. He left Vodafone in 2004 to become group CEO of the Italian publisher RCS MediaGroup. He rejoined Vodafone in 2006 as CEO of Vodafone's European region before taking on his current position.

The CEO of Vodafone is one of the most important roles in the industry. The rest of the mobile operators look to Vodafone for technology leadership, according to Richard Webb, directing analyst at Infonetics.

"He has to have a very clear vision and be very vocal about it, but I don't think Vodafone would pick someone who hasn't got that," Webb says.

"Colao's biggest challenge will be to keep Vodafone from turning into a bit pipe, but that is true for all mobile operators. Colao needs a dedicated Internet approach, including areas like advertising," Gutberlet says.

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