Vodafone life president steps down amid rumours of a rift

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The Independent Online

He resigned his honorary position yesterday amid widespread reports of a fractious rift with Arun Sarin, the man who replaced him as head of the company.

News of his departure came hours after Lord MacLaurin of Knebworth, the chairman and putative ally of Sir Christopher, tried to quash weekend reports that he had attempted to oust Mr Sarin at a board meeting a fortnight ago.

The company - for so long a darling of the technology and communications industries - has been rocked in recent months by reports of infighting at the top after performance faltered and the City asked questions of Mr Sarin's stewardship. Three directors said to be in the old guard's camp have gone and more could be on the way as Mr Sarin flexes his muscles and brings in his own people.

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Sir Christopher said while it was with "much regret" that he was resigning his honorary position, he would not let himself become subject to a "disinformation campaign intended to manipulate the press".

"Since retiring from the position of chief executive in July, 2003 I have never communicated on issues concerning the company with either with the media or shareholders," he said. "However, it has been alleged that I have used the position to interfere with the company and obstruct current management. These allegations are without foundation.

"I do not wish to be subject to a disinformation campaign intended to manipulate the press. Furthermore, I do not want any misunderstanding of the role of life president to be used in a way that might detract from Vodafone's future prospects."

Sir Christopher explicitly denied claimshe had been involved in hiring a new chief financial officer 18 months ago, adding that if there was a "whispering campaign or conspiracy" against him he was unaware of it.

But in what will be interpreted as a sideswipe at the boardroom upheaval, Sir Christopher stressed that during his time at the helm Vodafone had been "free of company politics and blame culture" and was "characterised by openness and trust".

He concluded: "While I have decided to stand down from the role of life president I remain a keen observer of the company. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see Vodafone recover from its present difficulties, deliver value to its shareholders and resume its global leadership role." His resignation came hours after a short statement from Lord MacLaurin insisting that Mr Sarin had both his, and the board's, unequivocal support.

Last week Peter Bamford, the marketing director appointed while Sir Christopher was in office, was sacked unexpectedly. The finance director, Ken Hydon, and the deputy chief executive, Julian Horn-Smith, had already gone.

Although Lord MacLaurin is said to have attempted to oust Mr Sarin twice over the past four months, he has failed to secure sufficient support from the board. His statement looked to play down the spat. It read: "On my return from a business trip to South Africa, I have read the recent press comment about Vodafone with great concern. I want to make it clear that I and the Board are totally supportive of our chief executive, Arun Sarin, as he takes the company forward in changing and challenging times. Any other suggestion is completely untrue."

Lord MacLaurin is believed to be meeting with several of the company's shareholders this week to listen to their concerns.