I had never been involved in the telecoms sector until I joined Vodafone. The group was at a point in its evolution when it was potentially at risk of being taken over, or had the opportunity to really step out and expand and become very big in its own right.
I actually joined as finance director of the corporate part of the UK business, knowing that if the international expansion were to happen, then the role might change fairly quickly.
Within 10 weeks of joining, Vodafone successfully bid for AirTouch in the US, and by week 13 I was asked to move on from the role I had joined to become FD of the whole of the UK business. Within nine months, as the bid for Germany’s Mannesmann looked like it was going to happen, I then had the responsibility for the UK business extended, to firstly pick up Middle East and Africa, then to pick up Northern Europe.
Three years in I was asked to move to the US, where AirTouch had formed a joint venture that Vodafone owned 45% of, in which they had the right to appoint the CFO. So I went out to the US for three years as CFO for the business called Verizon Wireless. I was very fortunate because that business really took off at that time with the explosive growth in mobile.
I returned to the UK as group CFO and did that role for nine years, until I left in 2014. In that time I saw huge change. When I joined, Vodafone had 8m customers worldwide, but when I left after 15 years it had 450 million.
Vodafone was involved in huge amounts of M&A. Mannesmann was the biggest deal worldwide, and the sale of Verizon Wireless, which happened in my last few months was the third biggest of all time, so we actually had two of the three biggest in the world.
The shareholder return that was delivered off the back of the Verizon Wireless sale was the biggest shareholder return ever in history in any market, and also by definition in the UK market.
A lot of complicated deals were undertaken worldwide. That’s because the business expanded extremely fast and in the early days the route to getting a licence to operate, often required a local partner, hence quite a lot of those ventures were joint ventures.
As things evolved the preference became to have more control. If there were opportunities to take out the minority partners, it was quite usual practice to do so. It’s easier to control a group of controlled entities rather than partly controlled entities, and therefore where there were was scope to do that, that’s what we did.
There was a wave to be ridden. A lot of the things were being looked at in preparation for the 3G auctions, such as what data and the internet coming on mobile could do for people’s lives. These things now very much mainstream and part of everyday life.
It was an unpredictable business. But we felt we could influence on shaping the way the future went. Nobody had gone on the journey before, and the ability to try to shape it, try to influence, it was very significant- and a lot of fun.
There were two big challenges. The group was very technology-based but overtime it had to move itself to becoming much more about customers and marketing, and that was a big evolution to go through. And secondly, because it was put together through a series of acquisitions, of largely small, fast-growing, very entrepreneurial businesses, there was the challenge of making sure that when acquired and integrated into a bigger group, that one didn’t lose the entrepreneurial flair.
I decided to join Standard Chartered for a couple of reasons. Having done the same role at Vodafone for nine years, it was time to do something that was different, and was going to involve learning in a new space. It also coincided very neatly with the exit of the investment in Verizon Wireless, that I’d been heavily involved with for over 10 years.It was perfect timing to say ‘let’s get that deal done, and then we’ll move on’.