01 Dec 2014
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In My Humble Opinion: Vittorio Colao (MBA 1990)

Vodafone CEO on breakfast, bikes, and the British
by Julia Hanna

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(Photo by Dwayne Senior/eyevine/Redux)

As CEO of the London-based telecom Vodafone Group, Vittorio Colao (MBA 1990) has led a series of headline-grabbing acquisitions and divestitures, from the company’s $1.7 billion purchase of British multinational telecom Cable & Wireless to its sale of a $130 billion stake in Verizon Wireless. On a daily basis, however, he is focused on operations and loves the energy of commercial challenges. “I am more of an execution-under-pressure type than a chess player,” he says. “I’ve seen too many strategies fail due to poor execution—and in the telecom sector, strategies can and should change very quickly due to the evolution of technology.”

Breakfast: A banana, toast with jam (no butter), orange juice (“I like to squeeze it myself”), and Lavazza coffee while reading iPad editions of Corriere della Sera, the Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times. Espresso comes an hour later. (“I’m trying to keep it to three or four cups a day. When I lived in Italy, it was closer to seven or eight.”)

Office touchstone: A general’s helmet given to him by his former Italian driver when he became CEO of Vodafone in 2008. “He said, ‘Mr. Colao, now you really are a general, and you need this helmet because it’s going to be war.’”

What makes him Italian: “The ability to get angry or very happy in a seamless way that is impossible for Anglo-Saxons to understand. Joking about everything, even in the darkest moments.”

British mysteries: Euphemism. “Saying ‘interesting’ to mean completely uninteresting, or ‘I am OK with this,’ which means I disagree completely. Even Americans don’t get this in the Brits.”

Workday habit: Every two hours or so, a minibreak of three or four minutes to read a news article or make a personal phone call. “It’s a great way to release tension and move between different modes I need to be in—decision-making, listening, analyzing, and so on.”

Recent reads: One serious, one for relaxation. Ill Fares the Land by economist Tony Judt and The Ascendant: A Garrett Reilly Thriller by Drew Chapman. The Economist is always in rotation.

Favorite place in London: Richmond Park, for early-morning bike rides. “I like to be there at 7 a.m., when the air is cool and the deer are waking up and wandering around.”

His bicycles: A Pinarello Dogma and a Colnago EPS.

Longest distance ridden in one day: 170 kilometers, in the Italian Alps. “It’s not amazing. It’s pure resilience. I’m a pretty mediocre cyclist.”

His phone(s): “All of them. I am Android. I am iOS. I am Windows. I am everything. And I suspect this answer doesn’t surprise you.”

A Look Inside Colao's Office

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Class of MBA 1990, Section G
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