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Sir Julian Horn-Smith, one of the founding fathers of Vodafone, on Tuesday stepped down as deputy chief executive after 22 years with the company.

As one of Vodafone’s “three musketeers”, along with Sir Christopher Gent and Ken Hydon, its former finance director, Sir Julian oversaw Vodafone’s domestic growth and dramatic overseas expansion.

His departure comes as Arun Sarin, Vodafone’s embattled chief executive, faces growing pressure from shareholders about the mobile phone group’s overseas strategy, which Sir Julian championed. Some fund managers want Vodafone to pull out of the US, where it owns 45 per cent of Verizon Wireless, while the poor performance of its Japanese operations are also of concern.

Vodafone on Tuesday said that Sir Julian’s move was “long planned” and that he felt it was the “right time to retire”. It is understood that Sir Julian, who is a non-executive director of Lloyds TSB and Smiths Group, the aerospace and engineering company, has been seeking to add a chairmanship to his roles.

Vodafone also announced that Tony Watson, former chief executive of Hermes Pension Management, the activist fund managers, would join its board as a non-executive director. Investors and analysts said Mr Watson’s arrival could help Vodafone’s relationship with the City, which has been strained by accusations of poor communication.

Shareholders on Tuesday said that it was unlikely that Sir Julian’s departure would herald a change in the company’s direction. “The changes are minor,” said one shareholder.

They are now looking to Sir John Bond, the incoming chairman, who will take up his role in July to review the company’s strategy, and make changes in management if necessary. Sir John, former chairman of HSBC, is understood to be aware of shareholder discontent and investors hope that he will address their concerns.

“We are encouraged by John Bond who will recognise the need for change,” said one shareholder.

Vodafone shares fell 2¾p to 118p.

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