Callander bags seat on Vocus board as telco decides it can learn from NZ

ASX-listed telco's about-face on its New Zealand operation complete. Plus: New group chief executive appointed.
Under Mark Callander's leadership, Vocus NZ has overcome many of the challenges facing its Australian parent, the chairman says.

ASX-listed Vocus has underlined its decision not to sell its New Zealand operation by appointing Vocus NZ chief executive Mark Callander to its board.

Mr Callander — a protégé of Malcolm Dick at CallPlus before its sale to Vocus — will serve as an executive director, as well as keeping the reins in New Zealand.

The Kiwi boss will take on his boardroom duties for no extra pay, at least for now.

An ASX filing says "The key terms of Mr Callander’s employment contract with Vocus have not been amended as a result of this appointment. Mr Callander’s remuneration consists of a fixed remuneration of $NZ600,000 and a variable incentive opportunity totalling $NZ600,000."

It notes that executive incentives are under review.

Vocus recently tried to sell its New Zealand operation, reportedly for $A500 million+. However, the sale foundered when the final bidder, said to be Trustpower, fell well short of the asking price.

The attempted sale process was sparked by Vocus' desire to pay down its debt (now near $A1.1 billion).

The company, whose shares have struggled over the past 18 months amid disappointing earnings, has instead renegotiated its debt ceiling.

Through its Slingshot, Orcon, CallPlus and Flip brands, Vocus holds 13% of the New Zealand market, according to figures released in December by the Commerce Commission.

And it seems that New Zealand has moved from being part of the problem to part of the solution.

"Under Mark’s leadership, our New Zealand business is delivering the value promised by earlier transactions and has overcome many of the challenges that face our Australian business," chairman Bob Mansfield says in the ASX filing.

Mr Callander's recent initiatives have included repatriating call centre operations and bundling power with broadband.

Vocus Group has also announced it had completed its executive cleanout, with Mr Mansfield – appointed in the New Year – joined by new group chief executive Kevin Russell (who replaces interim CEO Michael Simmons).

The filing says Mr Russell, "led Hutchison Three UK through a £1 billion turnaround, from a £900 million loss in 2006 to £100 million profit in 2010."

Mr Russell has recently served as Telstra's group executive for retail and as the head of Singel Optus's consumer division. 

Previous chief executive Geoff Horth and chairman Vaughan Bowen both fell on their swords earlier this year following poor performance. After coming in as new chairman in March, Mr Mansfield immediately began sending signals that the New Zealand sale might be off the table.

Mr Callander says his elevation to the board "will give New Zealand a strong and direct voice."

The proposed sale "was not something they ever wanted to do; it was something they felt they had to do.

"The boardroom renewal was part of the change in approach," he says.

He adds, "Now that the New Zealand business will not be sold, we are in a strong position to look more strategically at the growth opportunities in the market, across all segments we compete in."

Vocus [ASX:VOC] five-year share price performance. The telco has struggled to regain its mojo since the departure of its entrepreneurial founding chief executive, James Spenceley.