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Mr Vittorio Colao

Read Professor James Davenport's oration on Mr Vittorio Colao for the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in January 2024.


Mr Vittorio Colao
Mr Vittorio Colao

Vice-Chancellor, Vittorio Colao’s name is best known in the UK as CEO of the Vodafone Group from 2008 to 2018 during which time Vodafone became Europe’s largest Telecom provider. However, there is much more to his career, and his contributions, than this one-dimensional slice. After Italian military service as an Officer in the Carabinieri, he started his career with McKinsey & Co before joining Omnitel Pronto Italia in 1996. It may be hard to think back to then, but Omnitel had just launched the second mobile telephone service, in Italy, after the state-owned Telecom Italia. Gradually, roaming came in and the mobile telephone business became international. Omnitel was initially owned by US operators and by the German conglomerate Mannesmann, which then merged with Vodafone, starting Vittorio’s connection with Vodafone.

His time at Vodafone was interrupted by a spell as the Group CEO and publisher of RCS MediaGroup in Italy between 2004 and 2006, but he returned to the company in 2006, succeeding Sir Julian Horn-Smith, also a Bath Honorary Graduate, as deputy CEO, and becoming CEO in 2008. Over the subsequent ten years Vodafone became Europe’s largest Telecom provider and one of the largest in the world. This all took place during the transformation of mobile phones to universal communication devices, with a growth in regulation, notably the European regulation of mobile roaming charges. Vittorio adjusted well to the changes in role and visibility. He also took an active role in society, as he launched the Vodafone Foundation in all markets — funding over 1.1 billion US dollars of social projects worldwide. These projects included the invention of networked remote classrooms to educate three million girls in refugee camps by 2020. His activities in the wider area of inclusion led Vodafone to increase women to over 30% of management roles during his tenure. For this he became the FT Women Champion (2017) and one of ten worldwide business champions of the UN Women’s HeForShe movement. He received the Honor of the Order of Labor of the Italian President for his contribution to industry and the society.

After ten years he stepped down as CEO of Vodafone in 2018 and took up a variety of non-executive roles. The world changed in 2020, and Vittorio changed with it, starting his political career as the leader of a special task force, appointed by the Conte government of Italy, to handle the ‘Phase 2’ of Covid recovery, i.e. after the immediate lockdown in March 2020. The Committee he chaired planned “What do we do next” beyond the lockdowns of the emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. For this, he was appointed Great Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. He was then appointed in February 2021 as minister for technological innovation and digital transformation in the Draghi government. In August his portfolio was enlarged by space and aerospace. In his tenure he launched the Italian National Cybersecurity Agency, doubled the Italian citizens’ digital identity to over 30m and launched Italy’s digital public administration and health services.

He is now involved again in business, supporting small innovative entrepreneurial companies like Doctolib - a digital health company -, Backmarket - an electronics equipment recycling platform - and Staffbase - a digital communication SaaS company - as a director in their boards. He continues to give his wisdom to many causes. He is an Executive Committee member of Bocconi University in Milan, as well as the coChair of the university’s International Advisory Council, after having been an Advisor to the Oxford Martin School. He also chairs the Advisory Board of Cometa ONLUS, an organization focused on welcoming and training minors in Como, Italy.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Vittorio Colao as eminently worthy, by his contributions to business and society, to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

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