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Sir John Bond, who is retiring from HSBC next year, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Lord MacLaurin as chairman of Vodafone, the world’s largest mobile phone operator.

This week, Sir John said he would step down as chairman of the world’s third largest financial group next May after a 45-year career at the bank.

The move prompted speculation in the City he was being lined up to replace his counterpart at Vodafone.

Rumours started earlier in the year that Vodafone was searching for a replacement for Lord MacLaurin, 68, who is coming to the end of his tenure as chairman.

Sir John, who joined the board of the mobile phone operator in January this year, is no stranger to the mobile phone industry, serving as non-executive director of Orange between 1996 and 1999.

Sir John, 64, is seen as an ideal replacement for Lord MacLaurin, although some analysts questioned whether he is too old.

He is a heavy-hitter and respected in the City, while HSBC’s international reach fits with Vodafone’s strategy of extending its operations around the globe.

Lord MacLaurin joined the Vodafone board in January 1997 and is credited with bringing much needed retail savvy to the group, although some analysts believe he has been too low profile for a company of its size.

The former Tesco chairman assumed the role at Vodafone in 1998, temporarily relinquishing the post during the merger with AirTouch of the US the following year, before returning as chairman in 2000.

Lord MacLaurin has a glittering career behind him. The life peer is credited with turning Tesco, where he spent 40 years including 12 as chairman, into the success story it is today.

He has also held non-executive positions on the boards of Enterprise Oil, Guinness and National Westminster Bank.

Next month, however, he will have spent nine years on the board of Vodafone. After that length of time a non-executive director’s independence is increasingly questioned under guidelines in the combined code on corporate governance, although how it applies to a chairman remains a grey area.

Lord MacLaurin turns 69 next March leaving him one year before the issue of his age also becomes a concern among governance campaigners.

Vodafone would not be drawn on whether the search for a new chairman had started. “We never comment on speculation about succession planning,” Vodafone said. Lord MacLaurin could not be reached.

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