Exclusive: Veon CEO overturns predecessor’s strategy and increases revenue growth

Exclusive: Veon CEO overturns predecessor’s strategy and increases revenue growth

Ursula Burns Veon Sept 2019.jpg

Veon has reversed the centralisation policy of previous CEO Jean-Yves Charlier and is now insisting each of its 10 operating countries make their own investment cases.

Ursula Burns (pictured), who first became chairman and has been chairman and CEO of Veon since last year, has pursued a cost-cutting exercise across the group, she told Capacity yesterday.

Speaking at the company’s capital markets day, she said that the CEO of each subsidiary is now responsible for spending, with the approval of the board. “Every CEO has a target for cost intensity,” she said. “This allows us to deploy our capital in the right way across the business.”

This is a 180-degree turn on Charlier’s policy. He wanted to develop what he called a personal internet platform which would be deployed in all countries where Veon, formerly VimpelCom, operates – from Beeline in Russia to Jazz in Pakistan.

He set up a number of centralised development centres, including one in London’s Old Street high-technology centre. Burns has closed that down, she told Capacity.

“One thing I know how to do is run a good business and run it well,” said Burns, a mechanical engineer who spent most of her career at Xerox, starting as a new graduate in 1980s and leaving in 2017 as chairman of the board, having also been CEO for seven years. She was the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.

“We have made quite a lot of changes around here,” Burns said at the Veon meeting. She has replaced five out of 10 managers, “but now we will see a fair amount of stability for years to come”.

Annual rate of growth in revenue has risen from 3.2% in early 2018 to 7.5% in the second quarter of 2019, she told investors and analysts.

Charlier is now CEO of Caribbean and Pacific operator Digicel, owned by Irish businessman Denis O’Brien – he was appointed a director in August 2018 and then became CEO after the sudden death of the group CEO, Alex Matuschka von Greiffenclau.


Capacity plans to publish a full interview with Burns in the October-November issue.

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