Vodafone Wants to be Fit & Nimble for Battle Ahead, Rejigs Business
Measures to help the telecom operator make decisions faster and in a more holistic manner
Deepali Gupta & Devina Sengupta
Mumbai: Vodafone India is carrying out organisational changes at the top while dealing with a few exits, including the likely departure of M-Pesa head Suresh Sethi, as it prepares for a dogged fight in the Indian market at a time it is involved in merger talks with Idea Cellular to create the country’s largest telecom service provider.
The country’s second largest telecom service provider has streamlined its commercial and enterprise business under the newly-appointed chief operating officer Balesh Sharma, as reported by ET on February 6. Sharma, who was the chief executive officer of Vodafone Czech Republic, replaces Naveen Chopra, who is expected to get a new role from 1st of April.
The unit currently headed by Nick Gliddon was set up by Naveen Chopra over five years ago. “His passion and commitment to the post-paid business lies at the core of Vodafone’s equity,” said an email from Vodafone India CEO Sunil Sood to employees.
Another significant step is to bring the role of chief commercial officer under the COO. The post of CMO was carved out in 2012 to focus on customer quality as an in- dependent unit, reporting directly to the CEO. The current CMO, Sandeep Kataria, will now report to the COO. Ravi Santhanam, who heads customer value management, a role that reported to the chief commercial officer, has resigned and is expected to join a private sector bank.
Declining to comment on specific queries, the Vodafone spokesman said it was business as usual.
The steps are expected to help the company make decisions faster and in a more holistic manner. This would also help Vodafone integrate commercial strategy with operational teams more effectively, said a person familiar with the development.
A circle chief ET interviewed said that he was losing customers to Bharti Airtel because of the rival’s ability to offer attractive plans faster, while he needed approvals from the centre, which would take days. Another person familiar with the moves said the company might be planning to infuse some “fresh blood” into the team that has led the organisation for most of the past ten years. “The aim is to give the younger members in the Voda-
The company has brought the chief commercial officer under COO as part of restructuring exercise
fone family a chance to rise, and tap the Vodafone fast-track career programmes,” he said.
In the Delhi circle, a key market where Bharti Airtel is the dominant player, Vodafone is bringing in Alok Verma, who was so far heading the Assam and North East circle. Nidhi Lauria, who was the sales and marketing head in Delhi, will replace him, becoming the first woman circle chief for Vodafone. Erstwhile Delhi circle chief Apoorva Mehrotra has quit the company and is said to be relocating out of the country, which ET could not independently verify.
Sethi May Leave
Among other changes, Suresh Sethi, head of M-Pesa and in charge of readying the payments bank, is set to leave soon.
Vodafone India had appointed Rahul Bhagat as an advisor for the process. “We have not made any announcement — internal or external — regarding Suresh Sethi. He is currently the M-Pesa head,” said the company. The changes have led to talk that the company may forgo its payments bank licence.
A person familiar with details said no decision has been taken yet. The company hasn’t found an Indian partner for the banking venture and if the Idea merger goes through, the exercise may become irrelevant, he said.
“As stated in the past, we are on track to fulfil our ambition regarding payments bank,” the compa-
ny said. Vodafone has been lagging in growth and industry experts have attributed this to a lack of decision making.
In the quarter ended December 31, Vodafone India’s service revenue fell 1.9% to 1.45 billion (`10,556 crore), and the company attributed it to competition from Jio and to some extent demonetisation. The changes come after the company and the Birla group said on January 30 that they were in talks to merge mobile services that would create the country’s largest mobile phone company by subscribers and revenue market share.
Vodafone said a merger would result in the UK parent separating its India unit financial reporting from its global one.