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Orange boss Sanjiv Ahuja has walked out of his "operational responsibilities" as CEO, remaining as chairman of the UK board. He's replaced by Olaf Swantee an ex-Compaq customer services VP with HP.

"After four fabulous years with Orange, I want to let you know that I am stepping down from my role to take on new challenges outside the group, effective immediately," he told friends.

The move has baffled observers, not particularly because Sanjiv is leaving, but because of the way he is being replaced. He wrote: "Olaf Swantee, a senior vice president at Hewlett Packard will be picking up my responsibilities for Personal, UK & EME, based in London," and added mysteriously: "For the time being, AMEA will report directly to Didier Lombard."

Insiders say they aren't surprised at his departure. Some said the real surprise was that he'd walked, rather than being urged out, because (as he wrote to friends) his "mission" was complete. "My mission to integrate Orange with the France Telecom Group is complete and we're in good shape," was how he put it.

And, he added: "The time is right for me to move ahead with some exciting new ventures in this sector." He gave no details. However he did reveal that he will partner with the group (France Telecom) "on one of my new ventures".

Effectively, this splits the office of CEO. Two lines of responsibility usually implies some kind of internal re-alignment of organisational structure - which is hard to fathom, given the effort FT has put into binding the two parts together.

Not all responses were flattering, however. One consultant to the group confessed that she felt that the effort of integrating Orange UK into France Telecom "has meant that Sanjiv has taken his eye off the ball, in several areas where Orange was once dominant, but is now one of the also-rans."

Mystery also surrounds the appointment of a non-phone executive to run the mobile business. Olaf Swantee will join the company as executive vice president in charge of personal communication services, UK and Europe/Middle East operations, the company announced today.

"He will also join the group management committee," said the official release.

Swantee is currently senior vice president at Hewlett Packard responsible for enterprise sales and software in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and is not known to have had any in-depth insights into the currently congested mobile business, or the confused telco market in Europe. France Telecom remarked only that "he has 17 years of international experience in the IT industry", which sheds little light on the reasons for his appointment.

Swantee is a former Compaq executive. However, his major skills are said to be in customer services. His official biog at HP says:

Olaf Swantee is senior vice president of the Customer Solutions Group for Europe, Middle East and Africa at HP. Previously, Swantee was managing director and vice president of CSG’s General Western Europe region, which spans the Nordic and Benelux countries, Austria and Switzerland.

In this role, he drove the enterprise sales force transformation initiative. Between 2002 and 2004, Swantee held senior management positions in HP EMEA. As vice president of the Sales Enterprise Systems Group, he was responsible for building and developing HP’s sales model and for strengthening partnerships with HP’s enterprise customers in the region.

Before that, Swantee was vice president of Network Storage Solutions, where he led successful efforts to make HP the European market leader in network storage.

Before HP's merger with Compaq, Swantee was vice president of Compaq's Enterprise Storage Group in the EMEA region. Previous roles at Compaq include management team member for Compaq Switzerland, product business management positions at Digital Equipment Corporation in Europe, as well as executive assistant to DEC's chief executive officer. Earlier in his career, Swantee worked for Compaq's export division in field sales and marketing.

It concludes by noting that he holds a bachelor's degree in economics and received his European MBA in Paris.

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