The outgoing chief executive of Vodafone Group Plc. will be in hot demand. After five years at the helm of a successful UK-based global telecom operator, the Indian-born, US-educated executive is spoilt for options. Arun Sarin says the imminent priority is to take a sabbatical, travel and have some family time. Yet, at just 53 years old, odds are it won’t be long before Sarin sets his sights on a new challenge. It would be a surprise to see Sarin in another UK corporate role. While he leaves Vodafone on a high—the mobile operator just reported record full-year net profit—it has been a rough ride. Sarin’s ugly battle to keep his job in 2006 will certainly have left him with some bruises. He’s unlikely to want to re-risk the reputation he fought hard to restore.
Smooth operator : Sarin says his imminent priority is a sabbatical
Sarin’s enthusiasm for public companies may be dampened, but his passion for telecoms runs deep. The merger of Airtouch and Vodafone back in 1999 helped him secure a personal fortune, yet it was a career-long interest in mobile that led him to the top job at Vodafone. If Sarin wants to stay in the business and add to his millions, a private equity role would tick both boxes. After all, he has previously worked with KKR. After a difficult experience in the UK, Sarin will return to the US, which he called home prior to leading Vodafone. He has in the past described himself “an American – of Indian extraction”. The land of opportunity would certainly provide plenty of scope to expand his resume. Yet, Sarin might do the most good by turning his attention to India, the place he refers to as his “spiritual home”.
Vodafone’s acquisition last year of a controlling stake in the country’s fourth largest mobile operator, Hutchison Essar, only bolstered his reputation there. Sarin might think about using some of his clout to encourage India to relax its red-tape and restrictions on foreign investment. After overcoming them at Vodafone, Sarin is in a good position to lead the campaign.