Profile: Vodafone networker - Simon Lewis, group director of corporate affairs, Vodafone

Simon Lewis, who is set to take the top communications job at Vodafone by the end of the year, presents a plush and polished exterior that is hard to scratch.

Better than saying his mobile phone is a Vodafone, he adds that his car phone is also with the company and, ever on message, that current employer Centrica has been 'very good' about his departure as its director of comms and public policy after four months.

While some expected Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin to hire a more combative PRO in the mode of Alastair Campbell to replace Tim Brown, who resigned four weeks ago, Lewis exudes an Oxbridge-style charm. It comes as no surprise when Lewis says of his preliminary meetings with Sarin that they found common ground - they both stayed at undergraduate lodgings International House at the University of California, Berkeley: Sarin in the mid-1970s, Lewis, now 45, in the 1980s.

'It is important that there is an obvious connection and chemistry between the director of corporate affairs and the CEO,' Lewis says, seemingly relaxed and genuine.

Sunday Telegraph City editor Robert Peston, who has known Lewis since Oxford University, hints that Lewis's performance is sometimes a little too polished: 'He is very professional, though clearly not leaky enough.

The only black mark I have against him is that he is a Johnny-come-lately Arsenal fan.'

In one of his carefully placed anecdotes, Lewis, who originally supported West Ham, says he had a minor falling out with his brother - business editor of The Sunday Times William Lewis - over the defection.

Lewis's career began at the City offices of Shandwick Consultants under former Shandwick International CEO Richard Sermon and Lord Chadlington, and includes stints as head of PR for the now-defunct Social Democratic Party in 1986 and as the Queen's first communications secretary between 1998 and 2000. Along the way he has built up an enviable network of contacts, to whom he could soon be introducing Sarin.

His stint as the Queen's comms secretary came less than a year after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Prince Charles's private secretary, then Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Michael Peat, says Lewis did a 'huge amount to develop our thoughts and processes' in the realm of comms.

Lewis's most difficult moment was his clash with David Yelland over the then Sun editor's decision to publish topless pictures of Sophie Rhys-Jones a week before her wedding to Prince Edward. 'Yelland now accepts he got it wrong,' says Lewis. 'In these situations with the tabloid press you have to be clear on what you are prepared to do and what you are not.'

The rest of Lewis's career is punctuated by head of comms roles at SG Warburg Group and NatWest Group before he joined British Gas in 1996 as director of corporate affairs as the company planned for the demerger that would form Centrica. Although Lewis says he does not want to be 'prescriptive' about the importance of comms directors having a seat on the board, he has secured a place on Vodafone's executive committee, unlike his predecessor, something he describes as an important evolution in the head of comms role.

'It can be difficult to be as effective as you would want if you are not reporting to the very top, though this depends on your relationship with the CEO. When I started out it wasn't unusual for the head of PR to report to the marketing director. Things have moved on a bit since then,' Lewis says.

At Vodafone, he will be part of a senior management team still looking to define itself after the exit of the all-singing, all-dancing PR machine that was CEO Christopher Gent. As Peston puts it: 'Vodafone is slightly in search of an image. Sarin is very engaging but he hasn't quite stamped his mark on the company.'

Only time will tell whether Lewis's networking skills and polish can rub off on his new boss.

RESUME

1986: Head of PR, Social Democratic Party

1987: Head of PR, SG Warburg Group

1992: Director of corporate affairs, NatWest Group

1996: Director of corporate affairs, British Gas/Centrica

1998: Comms secretary to the Queen

2000: MD Europe, Centrica

2004: Director of comms and public policy, Centrica

2004: Group director of corporate affairs, Vodafone

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