Thursday, 15 Apr 2021

‘It’s not pandemic-related’ – Vodafone boss Jason Paris on job cuts

“It’s not pandemic-related,” says Vodafone New Zealand chief executive Jason Paris of his company’s decision to consult on a new round of job cuts – in which some 200 roles or about 10 per cent of its staff are expected to go.

Customers’ natural fear will be that service will take a hit.

But Paris says the exercise actually revolves around boosting service.

He says it’s about accelerating change. Over the past couple of years, his company has tried to improve its service, take 5G leadership, and upgrade many of its in-house systems, he says.

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On the first point, he says progress has been good, but not good enough.

“We’ve had the best service results since records began. But that means we’re only at parity with the rest of the industry. And we want service to be a differentiator for us.

“So we’re putting some money behind it. We’re moving roles back onshore and removing complexity from our business.

“That means moving some back-office and middle management roles [out], and we’re reinvesting that money in frontline customer service.”

He emphasised that there would also be about 150 new hires. In some cases, people who lost their current roles could be retrained.

A key facet of the restructure will be merging service and sales teams.

Paris explains: “I might have a broadband issue that needs to be resolved and, at the same time, I want to talk about adding my son’s mobile account onto mine. I shouldn’t have to be transferred.”

Separate enterprise service desk and network technical teams will also be merged, again to avoid back-and-forth.

The CEO said he wanted to wrap up the consultation process relatively quickly to minimise the period of uncertainty. He is aiming for the end of March.

In an email Paris sent to all staff last night, he said there would be an all-hands meeting today to discuss the initiative.

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The email was set to ban forwarding, but one staffer snapped it with their phone and sent a copy to the Herald.

Speaking to the Herald this morning, Paris confirmed about 200 staff would be shed in the exercise.

He added that Vodafone NZ is investing over $300 million in upgrades to various areas of its operation – $110m in sales and service, $115m in its digital acceleration programme and just over $100m on network expansion, including its 5G build.

Two execs depart

Paris’ email also announces that “in working through various options [chief consumer officer and director] Carolyn Luey has made a personal decision to leave Vodafone.”

It also says that “Anthony Welton’s role as Customer Operations Director is no longer required”. Welton had completed an exercise to “turn around and stabilise our customer service and operations”.

Luey became Vodafone NZ’s marketing boss in November 2018, after joining the company from MYOB. She was previously chief operating officer at Herald publisher NZME.

Welton took his current role after working for a decade for the telco’s philanthropic wing, the Vodafone NZ Foundation.

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In March 2019, soon after Paris took the reins, a consultation process began as the telco looked to shed about 400 of its then-2700 staff to tighten its operation before a planned NZX listing (ultimately headed off when Infratil and Brookfield bought the company in June that year) and to free up funds for investment in new technologies.

More belt-tightening followed last year as the pandemic hurt Vodafone, and peers Spark Chorus and 2degrees, as lucrative mobile roaming revenue dried up with border closures, data caps were temporarily suspended as a relief measure and bad debts increased.

This month, Vodafone said it would sub-let around half of its Smales Farm headquarters, citing a shift to hybrid working during Covid-19. The company earlier said it expected the trend to persist, with up to 40 per cent of staff working remotely at any one time.

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