KPN poaches Proximus CEO

Dominique Leroy has played Benelux musical chairs by moving from Belgian Proximus to become Dutch KPN’s new CEO.

The CEO vacancy at KPN was created by the sudden departure of Maximo Ibarra earlier this year for family reasons, which coincided with a major outage for which KPN was culpable. Leroy has been CEO of Proximus for five years but her new salary of around a million euros a year was presumably a factor in convincing her to seek new challenges.

“We are very pleased to appoint Dominique Leroy as the new CEO of KPN,” said Duco Sickinghe, KPN Chairman. “Dominique is a dynamic, customer-focused and engaging leader with a wealth of experience in the telecommunications industry. With her strong strategic, operational and communication skills, we are convinced that Dominique will be able to successfully execute on KPN’s strategy.”

“At the end of last year KPN unveiled its 2019 – 2021 strategy, prioritising sustainable growth in the medium term. Good progress has been made to date, driven by our dedicated Board of Management and Executive management team, and executed by our colleagues throughout the firm. With Dominique at the helm, the Supervisory Board is confident that we will see further progress in the delivery of KPN’s strategy, positioning KPN for further success in the years to come. Continuing to execute against that strategy will remain KPN’s focus.”

“I am very excited to be nominated as the next CEO of KPN,” said Leroy (pictured). “KPN has a high-quality reputation and an excellent leadership team. I am looking forward to working with them and the wider KPN team to execute on the existing strategy and help KPN to become a premier digital services and communication provider with the customer at its heart.”

Ibarra’s resignation was due to complete on 30 September but Leroy isn’t available until 1 December. It looks like COO Joost Farwerck is going to be super-sub CEO for October and November, but since the board doesn’t seem to have been able to come up with any strategy beyond the basic default for any company, that shouldn’t be too tricky.

AT&T tries to breathe McElfresh air into its communications division

US operator giant AT&T has unveiled lifer Jeff McElfresh CEO of AT&T Communications, replacing the retiring John Donovan.

McElfresh has been at AT&T for 25 years and was most recently President of AT&T Communications’ Technology and Operations group, which covers the techie side of things. Since we’re at the start of the switch to a new generation of mobile technology it would seem to make sense to promote someone from that side of the business. They could, of course, have recruited externally, but that doesn’t seem to be AT&T’s style.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson doesn’t seem to fancy dealing with McElfresh on a regular basis, however, as he has created a new COO position that will be filled by John Stankey, who is currently in charge of all the stuff AT&T got with its massive Time Warner acquisition. He will now manage McElfresh as well at Warner Media and will also be the direct report for Brian Lesser, CEO of the AT&T’s digital advertising platform Xandr.

“Now is the time to more tightly align our collection of world-class content, scaled consumer relationships, technical know-how and innovative advertising technology,” said Stephenson.  “It’s the natural next step in bringing together the distinct and complimentary capabilities of AT&T Communications, WarnerMedia and Xandr to deliver for consumers the benefits of a modern media company.

“AT&T is alone in the industry in being able to bring together these three great businesses for the launch of innovative consumer offers, relevant advertising and new entertainment services like HBO Max.

“John is an outstanding executive who has led nearly every area of our business, helped shape our strategy and excelled at operations throughout his career. The Board and I look forward to John hitting the ground running in his new role as president and COO.

“And I’m excited to have Jeff leading our communications business into the future. He is an accomplished leader with experience across our business — from strategy, technology and network, to marketing, operations and customer experience. This past year, Jeff led the team that won AT&T recognition for having the best, fastest and most reliable wireless network in the country.”

You have to wonder what that leaves for Stephenson to do, other than approve canned quotes for press releases. Still, he’s been a t the helm for 12 years so he’s earned the right to spend more time with his golf clubs.

Ericsson CEO Ekholm could be set to step down – report

Anonymous insiders have told Swedish financial paper DI that Ericsson plans to replace Ekholm with the departing Saab CEO sometime next year.

DI is both Swedish language and behind a paywall, so we’re relying in Reuters’ account of the original report here. Some handy unnamed sources have told DI that the plan was always for Ekholm (pictured) to only be in charge for as long as it took to steady the ship after the rocky conclusion of Hans Vestberg’s time at the helm. Ekholm is, after all, an investor rather than a company CEO, so maybe the feeling is that his strengths lie more in executing short-term tactical objectives than setting and implementing long-term strategic ones.

Someone more cut out to dictate Ericsson’s direction for the foreseeable future may be Håkan Buskhe, who has been CEO of Swedish engineering company Saab since 2010, but who announced he was calling it a day earlier this month. He has a six month notice period and the DI report would have us believe that the Ericsson board has already tapped him up to replace Ekholm any time after his gardening leave is finished.

“The reason I choose to leave Saab is that I would like to face another operational challenge in my career,” said Buskhe after handing in his resignation. “Until a new CEO is in place, I will continue to have full focus on Saab to ensure a smooth arrival for my successor, with the priorities being the implementation of the major projects together with our customers and the continued work to achieve Saab’s financial goals.”

The report notes that Investor AB, of which Ekholm was the CEO before stepping into the breach at Ericsson, is the biggest single shareholder in both Ericsson and Saab, with 40% of the voting shared in the latter. So Buskhe is presumably well-known to both Ekholm and the Ericsson board. It’s certainly not inconceivable that they will have discussed this move over a luxury pickled herring or two at some time.

Ericsson hadn’t responded to our request for comment at time of writing, but since it wouldn’t give one to Reuters either we’re not holding our breath. Ericsson’s shares were down a couple of percent at time of writing, which isn’t bad considering the positive effect Ekholm has had on the company. Alternatively it could equally be a sign that most investors don’t take the DI report very seriously or that they don’t think Buskhe would be a bad replacement.

Nokia taps Telia for new head of strategy

Finnish network vendor Nokia has decided its strategy should be directed by Gabriela Styf Sjöman, formerly of Swedish operator group Telia.

Sjöman (pictured) will replace long-time Chief Strategy Officer Kathrin Buvac, who isn’t leaving Nokia, but will now focus entirely running Nokia’s enterprise division. This move would appear to signify that the enterprise business group, which was only created at the start of this year, requires Buvac’s undivided attention. Whether or not this is because it’s going well or badly remains to be seen.

It seems like a good idea to have operator expertise in a networking vendor strategy team and Sjöman is presumably up to speed on the techie side too, her most recent role at Telia being at the head of its networks division. Nokia is also making much of the fact that she has lived all over the world, having grown up in Mexico and got an MBA from Durham University in the UK.

“We are delighted to welcome Gabriela to Nokia at a pivotal moment in our 5G journey,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “She brings a wealth of international knowledge and a deep understanding of our industry, its customers and technologies. Her insight will be critical in refining our strategy for the future. I also want to thank Kathrin, who has continued to lead our strategy organization in addition to her role as President of Nokia Enterprise since January this year.”

“I am excited to join Nokia at such a pivotal time,” said Sjöman. “With its broad portfolio and innovative technology, Nokia is well positioned to help its customers realize the full potential of 5G, and I look forward to being part of further strengthening Nokia in this 5G journey.”

Back in Sweden Nokia rival Ericsson has unveiled its replacement for Rafiah Ibrahim, who decided to call it a day back in March. Fadi Pharaon is being promoted from his current position as VP of networks and managed services in the Europe and Latin America group. He is an Ericsson lifer who seems to have had executive roles for the company in every part of the world.

“With the introduction of 5G we are at an exciting time in the industry,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “Our customer relationships are key to build a strong company position in the market for this next phase of industry development. Fadi has the right background, experience and capabilities to lead this work in this Market Area and I am very pleased to see him stepping up to this role.”

“The mobile industry is transforming countries and industries and with 5G becoming a reality, we will see new business opportunities and innovations across our markets,” said Pharaon. “I really look forward to taking on this exciting new role in Market Area Middle East & Africa and work together with both the team in the Market Area as well as the Executive Team. Our abilities to work closely with our customers in our market areas are key to leveraging our technology leadership in 5G.”

We can probably expect every significant announcement from either company to be framed in this ‘now that 5G has arrived’ way. The commercial opportunities presented by 5G are far more diverse and complex than by any previous mobile technology generation, so strategy maybe more important than ever when it comes to capitalising on the 5G opportunity.

Vodafone Idea’s struggles continue as it loses its CEO

Balesh Sharma, the CEO of Indian operator group Vodafone Idea, has decided to call it a day less than a year after it was created.

Sharma decided to step down ‘for personal reasons’, which could mean anything. There doesn’t seem much gossip out there but India’s Economic Times has a source that reckons Sharma’s departure was prompted by a perception that the merger between Vodafone India and Idea Cellular could have been managed better.

“Vodafone Idea had a top leadership strategy meeting last week, at which the company felt that failure to smoothly integrate the two companies soon enough and the resulting delay in rollout of 4G network had caused a ‘de-growth’,” said a claimed company executive who wanted to remain anonymous. The company needs to aggressively target customer acquisition. Also, only marginal synergy benefits are accruing. It is reflected by the revenue de-growth.”

Just the use of wonderfully corporate-speak terms like ‘de-growth’ alone is enough to convince us this is a legitimate corporate type, since no normal people use words like that. Since the catalyst for the merger, Reliance Jio, has gone from strength to strength in the past year it seems questionable to blame poor performance on botched integration. But corporate boards will always look to deflect blame away from themselves, and maybe decided it was time to scapegoat Sharma.

“I would like to thank Balesh for his leadership and the successful integration of the two businesses,” said Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman Aditya Birla Group and Vodafone Idea Limited, possibly in anticipation of such a theory. “Under Balesh’s stewardship, Vodafone Idea has realised a significant proportion of the synergies in a much shorter timescale than originally estimated.”

To be fair the Vodafone Idea board has put forward one of its own to see if he can do any better. “I am pleased to welcome Ravinder Takkar as our new MD & CEO,” said Birla. “Ravinder is well versed with the Vodafone Idea business context and I am confident that he will successfully steer the company through the next phase of development and help unlock its full potential.”

No pressure then.

Telia CEO hands in his notice

Johan Dennelind, CEO of Swedish telco group Telia Company, had decided to call it a day after six years at the helm.

Dennelind has a 12-month notice period, however, so he’s going nowhere in a hurry. But he’ll presumably be hoping they find his replacement sooner rather than later so he can have a nice big chunk of gardening leave and get some serious sauna time in.

“It is a true privilege to serve as President and CEO of Telia Company, one of Sweden’s oldest and largest companies,” said Dennelind. “During the last years I have, together with the Board and my team, implemented a transformation and re-alignment of Telia into a company that is well-positioned and well-equipped for the future.

“Telia Company is now entering a new phase with several opportunities for value-creation and with strong commitment from all our more than 20,000 employees. And it is after careful considerations that I now have decided to leave Telia and take on new challenges. I will continue in my role to drive our current agenda forward with full focus and commitment for as long as the Board wants.”

“During his six years as CEO, Johan has vigorously worked with the repositioning of Telia Company,” said Marie Ehrling, Chair of the Telia Board. “The culture and strategy of the company have changed fundamentally and Telia is today a company with strong business focus that truly represents responsible business. Johan’s strong and brave leadership has been crucial for this transformation. The Board and I regret that Johan has chosen to leave the company, but at the same time we respect his decision to take a new step in his career.

“I also want to emphasize the very strong cooperation we have enjoyed during Johan’s tenure as President and CEO. We have had several difficult and tough situations to address and the fact that Johan has always acted with strength and wisdom has been of great importance for the development of Telia. Johan has assured the Board that he will continue in his present role with full force as long as it is needed during his notice period. This secures continuity and focus on several important projects and processes in the company.”

It’s not known whether the new challenges Dennelind alluded to extend to more than sitting in small, hot, humid rooms, but if he does feel the need to get another job it looks like he can count on a good reference from Telia.

Apple CEO triggered by reports of design decline

When Apple’s famous head of design decided to call it a day last week, there was widespread speculation around what may have caused such a move.

The most Juicy gossip came from the Wall Street Journal, which wrote a piece contending that Jony Ive started the process of clearing off long ago and that it was motivated, at least in part, by CEO Tim Cook’s relative disinterest in the design process. This in turn demoralised Ive who, according to the account, became an increasingly distant figure at Apple Towers.

Tim Cook has always been known as an operations specialist with a particular talent for managing an efficient supply chain. Since he took over from the more creative, mercurial Apple founder Steve Jobs in 2011, these talents have ensured the company has gone from strength to strength in terms of revenue and profitability, but there has always been speculation that this has come at the expense of innovation.

That last truly disruptive move from Apple came with the launch of the iPad in 2010, but it looks like Ive was hoping the Apple Watch launch in 2015 would be a similar inflection point. While Apple has flogged quite a few of them and doubtless trousered a pile of cash in the process, there’s very little that differentiates the Apple Watch from its competitors and the category itself has failed to set the technology world on fire.

So it’s easy to see why a narrative that contends innovation at Apple is being suffocated with him in charge might trouble Cook somewhat, which seems to be confirmed by his response to the WSJ piece. Uncharacteristically he publicly took issue with the story via a statement sent to NBC News, in which he asserted it was at odds with his own perception.

“The story is absurd,” wrote Cook. “A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don’t match with reality. At a base level, it shows a lack of understanding about how the design team works and how Apple works. It distorts relationships, decisions and events to the point that we just don’t recognize the company it claims to describe.”

Grizzled Journalists soon recognised this as the kind of non-specific denial companies often send out when they want to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a story without calling out any specific inaccuracies. Cook is essentially saying he disagrees with the conclusions but then he would, wouldn’t he?

Ive’s departure doesn’t seem to have done Apple’s share price any harm, but it does increase the pressure on the company to prove it can still be a consumer technology trailblazer without him. While Apple hasn’t shown much evidence of this for a while, that lack of differentiation was largely put down to the maturity of the smartphone form factor and the openness of the component supply chain. If Apple still hasn’t invented anything revolutionary in a few years’ time, people now might pin the blame on Cook.

KPN CEO resignation definitely had nothing to do with recent network crash

Maximo Ibarra resigned at CEO of Dutch telco KP the day after a major network failure, but the company insists the two events are unrelated.

Ibarra had led KPN for just a year and a half, having moved over from Italy where he was a Wind lifer and CEO for five years. If we take the KPN announcement at face value Ibarra and his family never took to Rotterdam and have decided to move back to Italy. Luckily for them Sky Italia had a vacancy and has appointed Ibarra as its new CEO once he’s served out his notice.

“I have been with KPN since 2017, and appointed CEO in 2018,” said Ibarra. “I regret the timing, but family reasons gave me no choice. I will dedicate myself the coming months to secure a seamless transfer to my successor.”

The timing referred to must surely be the major outage suffered by KPN on Monday of this week, which even shut down the 112 emergency number. It seemed to just affect voice calls, which were down across the country for three hours.

“We regret that this could have happened, and we offer our sincere apologies to our customers and also to the Dutch society,” said Joost Farwerck, COO of KPN. “We immediately established a crisis team and yesterday afternoon and evening every possible effort was made to find a solution. Thankfully, as a result, by early evening service was resumed and 112 was also accessible again.

“It goes without saying, KPN will evaluate this disruption thoroughly, because this should never have happened. In this evaluation, we will work together with the Ministry of Security and Justice, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Telecom Agency and other relevant bodies. Of course, we want to learn from this disruption, so that we can draw the correct conclusions and ensure that this kind of incident can be prevented in the future.”

In the Ibarra press release KPN felt compelled to include the following statement: “His resignation is unrelated to the network outage experienced yesterday.” It probably was just unfortunate timing and we certainly have no evidence to suggest otherwise. But you can see how some people might put two and two together to make five.

Sharon White calls it a day at Ofcom

After four years of running the UK telecoms regulator Sharon White has decided she fancies a go at retail.

Ofcom has announced White will leave her current post as CEO of the regulator towards the end of this year in order to become Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership – a UK retail chain. They don’t have a replacement lined up but have half a year to dig someone up.

“Sharon has been an outstanding Chief Executive for Ofcom and will be missed by the whole organisation,” said Ofcom Chairman Lord Burns. “Under Sharon’s leadership, Ofcom has helped to deliver ultrafast broadband, widespread 4G mobile and now 5G, and became the first independent regulator of the BBC. She leaves Ofcom as a regulator with a relentless focus on the consumer interest; making sure people and businesses can get the best out of their communications services.”

“It’s been a huge privilege to lead Ofcom at a time when reliable, affordable communications have become essential,” said White. “I will leave behind an organisation that is dedicated in its mission to make communications work for everyone.”

On the whole White seems to have done a decent job in her time at Ofcom. She had to deal with things like the Openreach controversy, the 5G spectrum auctions and Three’s constant moaning and has done so with dignity and without any major mistakes. While she has left a solid platform for her successor, that person will have to deal with an industry in the middle of enormous change and in the centre of some of the biggest contemporary geopolitical issues.

Ericsson promotes from within for new marketing head

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson opted to draw on in-house talent to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Helena Norrman.

Ericsson’s new Head of Marketing & Corporate Relations is Stella Medlicott. She has spent the past couple of years performing the same function for the Europe and Latin America  market area and prior to that spent seven years running the marketing for Red Bee Media, the media services business Ericsson acquired in 2013, but tried and failed to sell a few years later.

“With the introduction of 5G we are at an exciting time in the industry,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm. “Our ability to differentiate our offering, articulate the value we bring to our customers and build strong relationships with our stakeholders will be key to build a strong company position for this next phase of industry development. Stella has the right background, experience and capabilities to lead this work going forward and I am very glad to see her stepping up to this role”.

“I really look forward to take on this exciting new role and to work together with both the global marketing and communications team and the executive team,” said Medlicott. “This is the time where the mobile industry is being transformed through 5G, generating innovation and new business opportunities across industries. Our marketing and communications abilities are key to leveraging our technology leadership in 5G.”

As both comments stress, Medlicott has stepped up to the top marketing job at an opportune time. Not only are we at the start of a new technological cycle in the telecoms world, but Ericsson’s own fortunes seem to be on the up. After the nadir of end of the Vestberg era, Ekholm has steadied the ship and, you never know, might even decide it’s safe to empower Medlicott with a bit more marketing budget.