Communication will be the key to success

Hoencamp will be replaced by Jeffery on September 1

Following as major reshuffle of operator CEOs, James Pearce says constant dialogue with channel partners and customers should be a top priority

At the start of the year, the leaders of the four UK operators were all established. Olaf Swantee  was  CEO at EE and Dave Dyson at Three  for five years, while Jeroen Hoencamp had held the reins at Vodafone UK for three. Ronan Dunne was a veteran, having held the role at O2 for eight years.

Fast forward just seven months, and Dyson is the last man standing. Swantee stepped down in January, but this month Dunne and Hoencamp are also departing.

During his tenure, Dunne increased O2 base from 18 million to 25 million customers and oversaw the rollout of its 4G network and Refresh tariff.

Everyone expected him to leave if Three-owner CK Hutchison’s £10.25 billion takeover bid was approved, and when it wasn’t rumours began to swirl that Dunne was  poised to lead a management buyout of the company from Telefonica.

That never materialised, and perhaps the only criticism that can be levelled at O2 under Dunne’s reign, at least from a Group standpoint, is that it still remains part of Telefonica, despite its best efforts to sell. That leaves his successor, CFO Mark Evans, facing a challenge to get O2 back to basics in the wake of an uncertain future.

Going home
Dunne may be (apologies) done, but so too is Jeroen Hoencamp’s stint in the UK. He now becomes new boss of Vodafone Netherlands, which is set to become part of a joint venture with Liberty Global.

This is a great opportunity for Hoencamp, and giving him the keys to a £770 million JV shows how highly Vodafone Group values him. It also gives him scope to return home, and Vodafone UK a refresh it badly needs.

Buck stops at the top
The once outstanding reputation of Vodafone in its home market has been devastated recently by media reports and damaging statistics, driven by a switch of billing system undertaken during Hoencamp’s tenure. The number of complaints about it made to Ofcom has grown from five per 100,000 to a peak of 31 per 100,000 customers That is more than four times the industry average.

As a number of dealers noted, the buck always stops at the top, and Hoencamp has led Vodafone during a difficult few years. It would have became the UK’s smallest mobile operator, had the Three/O2 deal been agreed, and it has shown no real signs of competing with EE and O2, given they have both grown their base, while Vodafone’s fell by more than one million during Hoencamp’s time.

He is also a bit of an enigma. Unlike Group boss Vittorio Colao, Hoencamp rarely gave interviews to the press. In his entire three years at Vodafone UK, he never sat down to speak with Mobile News, unlike Dunne and Swantee, who regularly spoke to us.

A number of  Vodafone partners said they rarely met him, and those who had said he didn’t seem to want to engage with the channel. But that wasn’t the case for the elite platinum partners, who strongly sang his praises. Perhaps his strategy was to focus just on the big name dealers?

His replacement, Vodafone Group enterprise director Nick Jeffery, is facing an uphill struggle – a Herculean task even – to repair Vodafone’s reputation.

Clearly, the lesson there for all of the new bosses at the UK operators to take away from their predecessors is just how important communication is as a key to success in this industry.