Two long-serving Vodafone directors to quit

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The overhaul of Vodafone’s board continued on Tuesday with plans for the departure of two of the UK mobile phone operator’s longest serving directors.

Some investors viewed the changes as helping Arun Sarin, Vodafone’s chief executive, strengthen his grip on the board. Investor pressure on Mr Sarin has intensified since Vodafone issued the first of three profit warnings last November, coupled with subsequent allegations of boardroom infighting.

Vodafone said on Tuesday that Paul Hazen, the deputy chairman and senior independent director, would retire after seven years on the board. He is due to be replaced at Vodafone’s annual meeting in July by John Buchanan, who has been a non-executive director since 2003 and was chief financial officer at BP.

Penny Hughes, who has been a non-executive director since 1998, will also retire from the board in July.

Lord MacLaurin, Vodafone’s chairman, said Mr Hazen had “served with distinction” and Ms Hughes’s contribution “cannot be overstated”.

But some investors expressed concern at Ms Hughes’s departure and inferred she had been ousted. “There are not many people left on the [Vodafone] board from a UK board background, where it is accepted that you do not have to agree with the management,” said one large shareholder.

Vodafone said Ms Hughes had decided not to seek re-election to the board, adding that the company’s non-executive directors were of “extremely high quality”.

Some investors had questioned Mr Hazen’s independence partly because he and Mr Sarin were directors at AirTouch, the US mobile operator bought by Vodafone in 1999. Vodafone said Mr Hazen had decided “this was the right time to retire and this is certainly not linked to alleged concerns about his independence”.

Many of Vodafone’s “old guard”, who oversaw the expansion of the group, are to retire in July. They include Lord MacLaurin and Sir Julian Horn Smith, deputy chief executive. Peter Bamford, chief marketing officer and another member of the old guard, left the company last month.

Vodafone’s will unveil its annual results on Tuesday next week, together with a strategy that is expected to partly focus on tapping into new opportunities from fixed line broadband services.

Verizon, the US phone company, on Tuesday damped down speculation of an imminent purchase of Vodafone’s 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless, the fast growing mobile operator. Verizon, which has a 55 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless, wants full ownership, but Doreen Toben, chief financial officer, it did “not anticipate any transaction in the near future” with Vodafone.

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