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Sir Julian Horn-Smith, the former deputy chief executive of the mobile phone giant Vodafone, on Friday stepped down unexpectedly as chairman of Sage, the UK’s largest software group, less than one year after his appointment, citing ”differences in culture and style”.

His abrupt departure is a blow for the Newcastle-based group, with a market capitalisation of £3.4bn, which has been strongly acquisitive and has been seen as a potential target for leading players such as Microsoft, SAP and Oracle.

Sir Julian, who had been part of Vodafone’s old guard instrumental in overseeing domestic and international expansion, became a director of Sage in February last year and stepped up to become its part-time non-executive chairman in August, just after he formally retired from Vodafone.

He was already a non-executive director of Lloyds TSB, and has since been appointed a senior adviser to UBS and a member of the international advisory board to Altimo, the telecoms arm of Alfa of Russia, among other commitments.

Tony Hobson, a non-executive director at Sage, will become acting chairman with immediate effect, while the company prepares to hire headhunters to find a long-term replacement.

Sir Julian said: ”Sage is a truly outstanding company and it is with great regret that I have decided to leave. After careful consideration the board agreed that the differences in style and culture meant that change was necessary. I felt that the best solution was for me to stand down as chairman”

Sage stressed ”there is absolutely no fall out, difference in strategy or over the future of the business.”

The group reported pre-tax profits up 14 per cent to £221m last year on sales up 22 per cent to £936m. The shares added ¼p at 263¾p.

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