Vodafone chief steps down in ‘carefully orchestrated succession’ plan

18 Dec 2002

The chief executive of Vodafone, Sir Christopher Gent, has announced he will step down from his position at the helm of Europe’s biggest mobile phone firm next July.

The company said Gent will be replaced by Arun Sarin, head of US-based Accel-KKR Telecom. Sarin is also currently a non-executive director of Vodafone, Charles Schwab Corp, Cisco systems and Gap Inc., although he will step down from most of these boards in due course, to devote his time to Vodafone.

Sarin was president and chief operating officer of AirTouch Communications until 1999 and he then became chief executive of the Americas and Asia region of Vodafone until 2000, when Vodafone’s US-based mobile businesses were merged with others to form Verizon Wireless.

Vodafone said that Gent had already expressed his wish to retire from the position and that Sarin’s appointment was part of a “carefully orchestrated succession”.

There was controversy earlier this year over the more than generous remuneration package awarded Gent at the company’s agm in July.

At that meeting, Gent was awarded more than nine million share options and performance and bonus shares up to a further £3.9m sterling (€6.2m), as well as a basic salary of £1.2m sterling (€1.87m), causing outrage amongst the company’s shareholders.

They were particularly peeved at the payout for a year in which Vodafone notched up Britain’s biggest corporate loss, seeing shareholders halve the value of their shares up to that point.

Forty-eight-year-old Sarin will be moving to the UK and will join the executive committee of Vodafone at the beginning of April next year as chief executive designate.

His remuneration package has a basic salary of £1.1m sterling (€1.7m) and incentives that have the same structure and quantum as those currently applying to Gent. In addition, the company will reimburse Sarin’s relocation expenses.

The company said Sarin was appointed “in accordance with the company’s remuneration policy”, which was approved at July’s agm.

Chairman of Vodafone, Lord MacLaurin, said: “Chris has contributed a huge amount of time and energy to the company and it is a testament to his achievement that Vodafone is now positioned as the global leader in mobile telecommunications.”

He added: “Chris will continue to lead Vodafone until July next year. I am delighted that Arun Sarin has made the commitment to take the group forward to the next phase of growth and that we have identified an individual with the ability, stature and knowledge of Vodafone which make him the ideal person for this role.”

Earlier this year Gent expressed his wish to retire in the latter half of 2003. Gent was managing director of the UK operating company from its launch in 1985 and became chief executive of the Group on 1 January, 1997. At that time Vodafone’s market capitalisation was £7.5bn sterling (equivalent share price: 49.3p sterling) and the company said he has led the growth and development of the company, which is today valued at over £75bn sterling (€117bn).

Vodafone has 450,000 Irish shareholders who got shares after Eircom’s mobile subsidiary, Eircell, was demerged and sold to Vodafone.

Meanwhile, UK stocks fell today, led by Vodafone after the announcement of Gent’s resignation.

The benchmark FTSE 100 Index lost 32.20, or 0.8pc, to 3876.30 as of 9:46am in London. The FTSE All-Share Index declined 13.91, or 0.7pc, to 1865.29 as about 2 shares declined for every one that advanced.

By Suzanne Byrne