Vodafone's chairman sees off Canadian-led rebellion at annual meeting

Sir John Bond survived an attempt to unseat him as chairman of Vodafone yesterday, but dissenting shareholders managed to muster the backing of 6.5 per cent of investors.

The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP), which itself holds only 0.4 per cent of the telecoms giant, had launched a high-profile campaign against Sir John ahead of yesterday's annual general meeting.

It argued that the chairman, a former chief executive of HSBC, was responsible for the group's, "significant structural and strategic weaknesses [and Vodafone's] history of poor capital allocation and disastrous M&A".

The interventionist shareholder group had also called on investors to block the re-election of Sir John's deputy, John Buchanan.

In the end, the two were returned to the board comfortably, but the rebel investor claimed that its 6.5 per cent share of the vote represented a significant protest given the relatively small size of its own holding.

"It is a lot more than zero," said Deborah Allan, the Canadian group's director of communications. "Vodafone has indicated that it is looking to change its strategy, which is what we wanted. Now we will have to wait to see how the new strategy is implemented."

In private, Vodafone insiders have been insisting that the confrontation was the first time OTPP had turned on management and described it as an exercise in "running the flag up the flagpole". One conceded that other shareholders could support the move to oust Sir John, "if they see some short-term value in the move".

OTPP backed the re-election of chief executive Vittorio Colao, who took the helm in July 2008, as he has started to improve Vodafone's operating performance and competitiveness.

Outlining the company's first-quarter results last Friday, Mr Colao addressed some investors' concerns, saying that income from mobile data increased by 33 per cent as more Vodafone customers took delivery of smart phones.

Subscribers are increasingly using their mobiles to access the internet, the company said, adding it was drawing up a strategy to "take advantage of the widespread adoption of data" later this year.

Another area of concern for shareholders is in the United States, where Vodafone owns 45 per cent of Verizon Wireless but does not receive a dividend. Its joint venture partner Verizon has indicated it could start paying a dividend in 2012.

"Our goal is to negotiate from a position of strength with Verizon," Sir John told the AGM. "[The stake] has been rising in value over the years so the decision not to sell yet has been the right decision."

Sir John and Mr Colao also used yesterday's AGM to scotch rumours that the two had disagreements over the direction of the group.

OTPP, which earlier month took control of the lottery operator Camelot, has been a thorn in the side of a number of UK companies. The firm is one of Canada's largest institutional investors, with C$96.4bn (£60bn) in assets under management at the end of last year.

Sir John Bond was appointed chairman of Vodafone in 2006, months after ending a 45 year career at HSBC.

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