Vodafone Group appointed CFO and interim CEO Margherita Della Valle (pictured) to lead the company on a permanent basis, ending its search for a new head following the departure of Nick Read at the end of 2022.

The executive has been CFO since 2018, having previously been deputy to Read when he held the company’s top financial role. She has been at Vodafone and its constituent companies for a total of almost 30 years.

In a statement Vodafone chairman Jean-Francois van Boxmeer noted the appointment followed a “rigorous internal and external search”, explaining the board was impressed with “her pace and decisiveness to begin the necessary transformation” of the company during the stint as interim boss.

Della Valle added she was honoured to take the role and reiterated earlier comments there was work to do to improve the company’s position.

“To realise our potential Vodafone needs to change. We know we can do better. My focus will be to improve the service for our customers, simplify our business and grow.”

Della Valle will continue as CFO alongside leading the company until a replacement is found.

The appointment ends months of media speculation about the identity of Read’s permanent successor, with names including Olaf Swantee, Andrea Salvato and Ronan Dunne raised by commentators as potential candidates.

Commenting on the news, CCS Insight director consumer and connectivity Kester Mann said. “After such a protracted recruitment process, it’s hard not to conclude that the appointment of Margherita Della Valle wasn’t the initial first choice for all parties after Nick Read’s departure was announced.”

“However, she has strong credentials through a wealth of experience both internationally and within Vodafone, including a stint as interim boss.”

“Appointing a close aide of Read to the top job suggests little deviation in strategy for Vodafone,” he added. “This may not go down so well with people pushing for a fresh approach to running the embattled company, but it does give Vodafone a safe pair of hands during a challenging time.”

The news of the appointment comes at a time of much speculation on the future direction of the company.

Vodafone is currently in talks with CK Hutchison over merging their respective UK operations, as rumours swirl about the direction of its other operations in Europe.