Vodafone chief wins backing as Gent goes

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Vodafone on Sunday attempted to draw a line under the acrimonious boardroom feuding that has recently shaken the mobile phone company, as Sir Christopher Gent resigned his honorary life presidency with a barbed attack on the "company politics and blame culture".

The resignation of the former chief executive, who built Vodafone into the world's largest mobile operator, removed one potential challenger to the authority of Arun Sarin, his successor.

Mr Sarin also received a rare expression of support from Lord MacLaurin, his chairman, who was forced to put out a statement denying any boardroom rift.

The two separate statements followed rumours that Sir Christopher sought to propose a new director after he had left the board and that Lord MacLaurin had canvassed non-executives about removing Mr Sarin from the helm of the company, which is struggling with slowing growth and questions about its strategy.

"These allegations are without foundation," Sir Christopher said. "If there is a 'whispering campaign' or 'conspiracy', which I very much doubt, then I am not party to it.When I was an executive at Vodafone, relationships within the company and at board level were characterised by openness and trust. We were mercifully free of company politics and blame culture."

Lord MacLaurin's statement said he and the board were "totally supportive of our chief executive, Arun Sarin, as he takes the company forward in changing and challenging times".

Lord MacLaurin told the Financial Times he had returned from a 10-day business trip to read press coverage of boardroom disputes and was "absolutely aghast at the stupidity of it all".

"I've been talking to Arun this morning and we're best mates," he added. "In my business life I have never seen anything like this and I don't want to see anything like it again."

It is understood, however, that Lord MacLaurin's office contacted several of Vodafone's top shareholders, who had expressed concerns about the group some weeks ago, to set up a meeting. Company executives and shareholders who have been supportive of Mr Sarin were unaware of the meeting, which was due to take place today. It is unclear whether it will go ahead after yesterday's developments.

Lord MacLaurin's expression of boardroom unity comes after Insight Investment - a fund management group more supportive of Mr Sarin than many top shareholders - told Vodafone's brokers at Goldman Sachs that its directors needed to resolve their internal tensions or at least stop them being aired in public.

Shareholders said the group's recent moves, such as discussing the sale of Vodafone's Japanese business and writing down goodwill from acquisitions made at the top of the market, had bought its chief executive time.

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