James: Laurence reshapes Vodafone

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Vodafone UK chief Guy Laurence has been quiet in public since he took over from Nick Read a year-and-a-half ago. He came out for the iPhone launch of course, and has appeared here and there to discuss general items affecting the wider market.

Internally, however, he is starting to put his mark on the business. The fact it has taken until now to start to see the change within Vodafone probably tells of the difficulty he has faced. Vodafone has always been top-heavy in terms of management structure. It’s also been well stuffed around the middle. Of course, the command to cut the fat and streamline is a group instruction.

But the UK is its home operation, and the order here has been tallest.
The removal of Ian Shepherd, Tom Devine and Terry O’Brien, and the impending cuts to middle-management next week, show Laurence is cutting Vodafone free of its legacy and the comfort it has always gained from it.

Laurence is defining it in contrast to the Read era. He has stripped out a layer of management in the consumer division. The enterprise division has already seen change, with the appointments of Peter Kelly and Rob Shardlow.

There are of course grumblings within Newbury. But there is a new nimbleness at Vodafone, a new openness and desire to engage. At the same time, old habits die hard. And Vodafone takes a step forward, and one (at least) back with delays to good service launches (OneNet), a susceptibility to wrong-headed ones (360), curious and expensive marketing campaigns around network signal, and a sterility in broader retail. Vodafone can still seem out of touch.

Which is presumably why Laurence is taking names and making tough calls. He needs to keep doing so to see Vodafone comes out of its torpor quickly. It will be number three in the market soon, and be required to fight smartly.

This article originally appeared in Mobile News issue 458 (March 1, 2010).

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