Verizon welcomes back former Vodafone chief Vittorio Colao to its board

Former Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao has rejoined the Verizon Board of Directors, effective November 4.

The company announced the board appointment on Monday. Colao was the chief executive of Vodafone Group from 2008 to 2018.

Vittorio Colao
Vittorio Colao (Verizon)

He served on Verizon’s Board of Directors from 2019 to January 2021. He left when he was appointed to serve as Italian Minister for Innovation, Digital Transition and Space from February 2021 to October 2022.

Vodafone was part owner of Verizon Wireless when it was formed as a joint venture in 2000. Verizon Communications became the sole owner in 2014 after buying Vodafone’s 45% stake in the company.

In a press release, Verizon pointed out that he has unique insight into Verizon’s wireless business as a result of his five-year tenure on the Verizon Wireless Board of Representatives when Verizon Wireless was still a joint venture between Verizon and Vodafone. The board has appointed him to the Corporate Governance and Policy Committee and the Finance Committee.

“We are thrilled to have Vittorio rejoin our Board as we execute our 5G strategy,” said Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg in a statement. “He is an outstanding leader who brings to Verizon a wealth of telecommunications expertise…. With his deep understanding of the wireless industry, successful tenure as CEO, and government experience, he will strengthen the expertise of the board and be a tremendous asset to Verizon.”

"Positive thing for Verizon" 

Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics, said this move significantly strengthens the telecom understanding of the board, which includes distinguished leaders from Starbucks and UPS.  

The other Verizon board member with deep telecom experience is Dan Schulman, president and CEO of PayPal Holdings. Schulman previously was president of the prepaid group at Sprint Nextel after serving as CEO of Virgin Mobile USA and he held various positions at AT&T.

“It’s more help for Hans, because Vittorio has run Vodafone. He’s been on the oversight board of Verizon Wireless, so he knows this market really, really well, and he’s another senior advisor that can help Verizon. So it’s a positive thing for Verizon overall,” Entner said.

Analyst Mark Lowenstein, managing director of Mobile Ecosystem, said he wouldn’t read too much into the appointment. Colao was on the board until his appointment as Italian Minister and now that he’s eligible to rejoin the board, he was asked to do so, which must mean the rest of the board thought positively of him as a board member previously.

“The fact that he was on the board ... and likely had a hand in appointing Vestberg as CEO, could be seen as a positive for Vestberg, especially given Verizon's difficulties of late and some of the rumors swirling around,” Lowenstein said.

It’s a tricky situation in that in the U.S., the CEO typically has a say on who’s on the board, and the board oversees the CEO. Verizon has been undergoing some tough times of late – the kind that lead to speculation on the status of the CEO’s job.

“I don’t think Vittorio could have rejoined the board if Hans would have been against it,” Entner said.

Vestberg was named as the replacement for Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam in 2018. Vestberg left Ericsson in July 2016 when the board of the Swedish vendor decided it was time for a new CEO.

During Verizon’s third-quarter earnings call last month, Vestberg acknowledged “it’s a big ship we’re moving,” and he thinks the actions they took in the second quarter are having a positive impact. “We have more to do,” he said.

One of the questions becomes who would replace Vestberg if he were to leave. “Hans is a very nice person and people like him, and that goes a long way,” Entner said.

Lowenstein said in his view, Verizon’s board could use “a bit of a refresh,” perhaps bringing in a couple of new members “with Silicon Valley chops, and/or in some industries where 5G is going to have a big impact over the next decade, such as automotive or manufacturing.”