Stanners quitting Vodafone, will be replaced by Paris

UPDATED: Analyst's verdict on the Stanners era, and his assessment of Vodafone's incoming CEO and the challenges he faces.
Russell Stanners is leaving the building.

Vodafone New Zealand's longstanding chief executive, Russell Stanners, has confirmed he's stepping down — and that he will be replaced at the end of October by Spark alumnus Jason Paris (as reported by NBR earlier today).

Perennial bridesmaid Mr Paris (he also held No 2 roles at TVNZ and MediaWorks) announced his resignation from Spark on December 18. At Spark, he was chief executive for home, mobile and business.

Earlier this year, Mr Paris took up a position at Vodafone Group (Vodafone's global management team) in London. But the rumour mill immediately suggested he was being actually groomed for a leadership role in New Zealand, in keeping with the company's usual modus operandi.

The ex-Spark executive was named "director of convergence" at Vodafone Group but NBR understands this was something of a make-work title as he underwent executive training and sat out his non-compete agreement with Spark in New Zealand.

An insider tells NBR that, ironically, it was Mr Stanners who put Mr Paris on a talent acquisition hit-list. However, that was some years ago, and it is understood the pair have not been in contact in recent times. 

Mr Stanners — who joined Vodafone in 2002 and became Vodafone NZ chief executive in 2005 — had an unusually long tenure for an ICT company boss. The last year of his reign has been marred by the failure of Vodafone and Sky TV's attempted merger.

Jason Paris

In recent years, Vodafone has seen longtime No 2 Spark draw level in the mobile market But in fixed line, Vodafone has made gains and it recently returned to profitability (although partly because it jettisoned a high-interest rate, tax-minimising loan from its UK parent as it laid the groundwork for the possible Sky merger).

Industry scuttlebutt has held that Mr Stanners may be in line for the chief executive job at Sky, however this morning he ruled out that option. His immediate plan was to take time out.

'Outstanding job'
"Russell has done an outstanding job leading Vodafone through significant industry changes, such as Telecom's structural separation, and periods of fierce competition," IDC NZ country manager Peter Wise says.

"During his tenure, Vodafone NZ has transformed from mobile-only provider to a full-service carrier, successfully acquiring TelstraClear, WorldxChange and Farmside," the independent market researcher adds.

"His long tenure alone is evidence of a strong, resilient leader and I’ve personally found him very approachable and fair to deal with."

Of Mr Paris, the IDC man says, "He knows the competition, having come from Spark, and he seems to be a good fit. He's got lots of energy. I know he was well liked at Spark. He's certainly very approachable."

He also says that while capable, Vodafone NZ's new boss will have his work cut out. Landline broadband had become commoditised while the mobile market has become fiercely competitive and a 5G upgrade is just around the corner. "How do you invest, innovate and still make money on the mobile side," he asks. That challenge lies ahead.

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