Vittorio Colao to say ciao to Vodafone as firm goes back to black

Voda UK remains 'sick man of Europe', though – analyst

Vodafone boss Vittorio Colao has confirmed he is quitting the telco just a week after agreeing to spend €18.4bn (£16.1bn) on Liberty Global’s European assets.

The CEO, who ran Vodafone for a decade and has set a departure date for October, is to be replaced by current finance director Nick Read, who joined the organisation in 2001.

Colao's departure was announced during the firm's annual results for fiscal '18, in which it posted a 2.2 per cent drop in group revenues to €46.57bn (£41bn).

Mobile service revenue fell 6.6 per cent to €30.6bn, and fixed service revenue went up marginally from €10.22bn to €10.4bn. Other revenue, including mobile terminations and inter-network operator fees grew 19.5 per cent to €5.5bn.

Group profits returned to the black, €2.8bn, compared to a loss of €6.1bn in the previous year - mainly due to the write-off of Vodafone's Indian business.

Germany, Vodafone's largest territory, grew 2.3 per cent to €10.84bn, the UK was up 2.2 per cent to €7.07bn and Italy grew 1.7 per cent to €6.2bn.

Despite this, Philip Carse, analyst at Megabuyte, described Vodafone's UK operation as "the sick man of Europe" as service revenue locally dropped 3.6 per cent to €6.1bn versus comparative growth in other big country ops.

Overall growth in the UK was due to significant handset financing, according to Carse.

"Vittoria Colao has certainly chosen a good time to bow out, having finally consummated a significant and strategically beneficial deal with Liberty Global, as well as reporting a relatively decent year to March 2018," he said.

"The overall improvement in Vodafone’s fortunes over the last 10 years is less evident in the UK, the company’s worst major European market, albeit that some of this reflects an inherently more competitive mobile market with four strong players," he added.

Part of the UK lag can be attributed to the billing fiasco in 2016, caused by an IT cock-up. That led to Voda being hit with a record fine of £4.6m for mis-selling and inaccurate customer billing. Since then Vodafone has splashed £2bn upgrading its networks.

However, Carse said the company had also failed to build out a combined fixed and mobile business in the UK as it has done in other European markets through acquiring cable or other fixed line businesses.

Voda has made efforts to catch up in the fixed fibre market, signing a contract with UK full-fibre builder Cityfibre to connect up to five million premises over the next eight years.

However, Carse noted the telco remains exposed to strong unified comms competition from a now merged BT Consumer/EE as well as Virgin Media, which is also investing heavily in its network.

"That particular strategic challenge has now been handed to Collao’s successor Nick Read, whose previous roles at Vodafone included that of UK CEO." ®

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