Sarin leaves Vodafone after five years in charge

Arun Sarin is to step down as Vodafone's CEO after five years of leading the world's largest mobile phone operator by revenue. The 53 year old will leave the company on 29 July and will be succeeded by 46 year old Vittorio Colao, currently the operator's deputy CEO and head of European operations.

It's been a bumpy ride for Sarin, who has had to face down share holders' revolts, but he is leaving on a high note: Vodafone has just reported a 14% rise in revenue over the last financial year. Income rose to £35.5 billion (€44 billion) for 2007-2008, producing an adjusted operating profit of £10.1 billion (€12.57 billion) and free cash flow of £5.5 billion (€6.8 billion).

This perhaps explains his apparent change of heart. Earlier he had striven to quell any suggestion that he would leave his post this year.

"We have made strong progress over the past year with our strategy and met or exceeded our stated financial expectations in all areas," Mr Sarin said in a statement, reported in the Financial Times, highlighting an 11% increase in adjusted earnings per share.

The article also quoted Sarin saying, "I felt the time was right for me to hand over at this time"&brkbar; I have achieved what I set out to achieve on becoming CEO and therefore felt the timing was right now."

Sarin claimed to be "delighted" that Colao would succeed him. The challenges confronting Colao, he said, would include the global economic slowdown, regulatory pressures and new entrants seeking to exploit the mobile internet, according to the Financial Times.

Others include Vodafone's ongoing struggle to gain total control of the Vodacom, South Africa's largest mobile operator. Vodafone already owns 50%, but the rest is held by Telkom, South Africa's leading fixed line operator, which in turn is controlled by the state. Vodafone's stake in US operator Verizon is also a source of contention among some shareholders who want Vodafone to divest itself of its holding.

Colao has been Vodafone's deputy chief executive since September 2006. He was a partner at McKinsey before joining Omnitel, Italy's second-largest mobile phone operator, which Vodafone acquired in 2000. He left Vodafone briefly to become CEO of Italian publishing group RCS MediaGroup, the Italian publishing company.