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Swantee lands at Sunrise, Elop at Telstra

Two high profile names in the mobile world in recent times have taken up positions with new operators, and new countries. Olaf Swantee, the forceful former CEO of the UK’s largest cellco, EE, is to take up the CEOship at Sunrise in Switzerland, after the completion of EE’s acquisition by BT.

A far more controversial figure, Stephen Elop – former Nokia chief and architect of the sale of the Finnish company’s devices business to Microsoft – is to move to Australia’s Telstra, where he will be in charge of technology, innovation and strategy.

Swantee’s appointment is a coup for Sunrise, which is in the process of launching a full multiplay business to try to reverse falling revenues and challenge state incumbent Swisscom. Swantee was moving EE down the multiplay route in his final period at the UK operator, but in other respects his challenges there were very different. At Sunrise he needs to address the fall in Sunrise’s revenue and mobile market share (currently 20%), the challenges of being a smaller player, and the need to diversify in a disruptive manner.

He stepped in to revitalize the MNO after the teething troubles which accompanied its creation (as a merger between the UK subsidiaries of Deutsche Telekom and Orange). He acquired a strong reputation for leadership and negotiating the dangerous waters of a joint venture between two giants. On his watch, EE made the most of the bonus it was handed by regulator Ofcom, which allowed it to refarm its 1.8 GHz spectrum for LTE, giving it a headstart in that market while its rivals had to wait for a much-delayed auction. This was a real turning point for EE, on which it built cleverly, creating TV and multiplay propositions, and continuing to enhance its network and services throughout the uncertainty of the BT acquisition process.

Swantee, who is Dutch but a Swiss citizen, succeeds Libor Voncina, who had been CEO of Sunrise since 2013 and led the company through an IPO last year. Chairman Lorne Somerville said in a statement: “Olaf Swantee is a successful leader who is Swiss, sensitive to the requirements and opportunities of our market and who has successfully managed telecommunications and mobile service operators in several European countries.”

Round the world at Telstra, the incumbent telco has charged Elop with “responsibility for leading Telstra’s strategy to become a world class technology company”, based in Australia and the US and reporting directly to CEO Andrew Penn.

Penn said in a statement: “Stephen will immediately add major firepower to our team with his extensive and deep technology experience and an innate sense of customer expectations. He is a recognised international technology leader and strategist from across a range of global organizations.”

Many would argue with that assessment of Elop, who takes at least some of the blame for the implosion of Nokia’s device business and was, thankfully, passed over for the role of Microsoft CEO in favor of Satya Nadella. Elop was a long term Microsoft executive who negotiated the deal for Nokia to license Windows Phone to replace its own Symbian operating system. He then transferred to Nokia as CEO, and oversaw the next agreement with Microsoft, which acquired the devices business – a development that saw Elop return to his mother ship as head of the mobile division. With that in meltdown, he was a casualty of Nadella’s reorganization of the executive team in mid-2015.

None of this track record explains why he will be valuable to Telstra, which has a strong reputation for being at the cutting edge of technology, especially as he has no operator experience. The carrier has also appointed Kevin Russell as group executive for its retail unit – though recently running a Silicon Valley start-up, Russell was previously at Telstra’s arch-rival Singtel Optus, most recently as country chief officer and CEO for consumer, Australia.

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