Della Valle becomes Vodafone CEO ahead of likely M&A spree

UK-based operator group Vodafone has appointed Margherita Della Valle as its new permanent CEO, some five months after she took on the role on an interim basis.

Mary Lennighan

April 27, 2023

3 Min Read
Margherita Della Valle Vodafone

UK-based operator group Vodafone has appointed Margherita Della Valle (pictured) as its new permanent CEO, some five months after she took on the role on an interim basis.

Her appointment comes amidst a new wave of M&A rumours involving Vodafone. Her remit is – of course – to turn around the fortunes of the troubled telco group, and it seems that will involve leading the company through a reshaping and streamlining process that will likely involve asset sales.

“To realise our potential Vodafone needs to change,” the new boss said, on Thursday. “We know we can do better. My focus will be to improve the service for our customers, simplify our business and grow.”

It’s the word ‘simplify’ that’s key here. Vodafone is in a precarious state, a falling share price, competitive and macro-economic pressures, and antsy investors pushing for more streamlining being just some of its woes. There have been many rumours on future direction – specifically on possible M&A – over the past few months, but we knew we were unlikely to get any concrete deal announcements with the CEO’s chair standing empty…or at least, only temporarily occupied.

But that could all be about to change. The news that she will take the top job coincides with a media report that Vodafone has re-opened deal talks with Iliad.

So says Bloomberg, whose sources claim that Xavier Niel-owned Iliad and Vodafone are discussing a number of possible options, one of which could involve the companies’ respective Italian businesses. However, Iliad has also been looking closely at Vodafone’s assets in other parts of Europe, they said, without giving specifics.

The news report my be new, but the situation is not: the companies restarted discussions after Niel’s Atlas Investissement picked up a 2.5 percent stake in Vodafone in September, the sources said.

Iliad has already had a run at Vodafone Italia. In February last year Vodafone confirmed it had received a bid from Iliad and Apax Partners for the whole of the Italian business, but stated that it had rejected said bid as being “not in the best interests of shareholders.” Or too low, to put it another way.

Niel doubtless has a bit more clout at Vodafone now he’s a shareholder, but it’s questionable whether  the two sides will be able to meet on valuation.

Vodafone also has other irons in the fire, the most notable being a potential tie-up with Three in the UK, something it has been working on for a while. Given that the parties involved have been fairly open in their dealings on that one, there’s a good chance it will be the first major announcement of Della Valle’s tenure.

There’s also Spain to consider, where Vodafone is reportedly fielding offers of around the US$4 billion mark for its operations. And e& – now a major shareholder with a 14.6 percent stake, and pushing for greater influence at board level – is said to be interested in Vodacom.

Vodafone’s shares started to climb on the new CEO announcement on Thursday, the market presumably reacting positively to the certainty of having a new leader in place as much as to her identity.

Just like her predecessor Nick Read, who quit in December, Della Valle is making the move from chief finance officer to CEO. Her appointment has been a long time coming, and during the time she spent as interim CEO, many big industry names were bandied about as likely candidates to replace Read.

Indeed, Vodafone chairman Jean-François van Boxmeer, referred to “a rigorous internal and external search” that led to the appointment, presumably to stave off any suggestion that the telco failed to attract an external candidate to the post and ultimately plumped for the person in situ once the time lag started to look embarrassing.

The CFO-to-CEO path is a well-trodden one though, and the important thing now is that Vodafone has a steady and permanent hand on the tiller. But this would be a tough brief for anyone. Della Valle certainly has her work cut out.


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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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