Bill Morrow, Vodafone's Turnaround Guru, Walks Away

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LONDON (Dow Jones) The unexpected departure of Bill Morrow the mastermind behind the turnaround of Vodafone Group's former Japanese operations and current head of its most lucrative unit is a significant loss for the world's top phone company.

News of Morrow's surprise resignation for personal reasons came as Vodafone released upbeat key performance indicators for the first quarter, saying it added 4.5 million new customers in the period.Shares added about 3% in London trading.

The loss of the highly regarded executive comes at a sensitive time for the UK group as its top management finds itself in turmoil once again.

There've been press reports about disgruntled investors. UK newspaper, The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that institutional investors representing up to 15% of the group's capital plan to vote against the reelection of Chief Executive Arun Sarin at the company's annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday.

Analysts said they view the departure of Morrow, who was a well-respected manager, as one more problem the company doesn't need right now.

Deutsche Bank said the loss of a "very competent line manager" was a "disappointment."

Citigroup said one of the reasons it was backing the turnaround story with cost reductions in Europe was because of Morrow's proven ability to deliver results. The broker also noted that some saw him as a potential CEO candidate.

Morrow is leaving at the end of the month and will be replaced by Fritz Joussen, the head of Vodafone's German operations, while the company searches for a substitute. Vodafone said Morrow was heading back to the US for family reasons. He is married and has three children.

Morrow, who had been with Vodafone for more than 10 years, established his reputation as a turnaround guru after reversing the fortunes of the group's Japanese operations before its sale to Softbank earlier this year. He spearheaded the 8.9 billion-pound deal.

Following Vodafone's restructuring into three main units in April, he shot to prominence as the head of the Europe division, which faces an uphill struggle because of increased competition in nearly saturated markets.

Before joining Vodafone, the 46 year-old American had worked in telecoms for more than 15 years, holding management positions at Pacific Bell, AirTouch and Proximus. Morrow studied in California, where he earned degrees in electrical engineering and business administration.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires"

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