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The topic is strikingly appropriate: managing change. He can't have anticipated that the biggest change his executives may face is his own departure. A board meeting set for July 26 is seen as a possible make-or-break date for Villalonga, 47, the brash ex-investment banker who is credited with turning a former state monopoly into a global powerhouse. What some see as a lack of discretion and diplomacy in the areas of money, sex and politics could overshadow what he has achieved for the company's bottom line.
By most accounts, Villalonga has done plenty. But now some core shareholders are pressuring him to resign. A stock market investigation is under way into allegations that he broke insider trading rules.
Few expect Villalonga to last out the year, however, and names of possible successors are being bandied about in Madrid. As cfo, Abril worked closely with Villalonga, but the two quarreled and Abril's position became untenable, according to people close to the company. They are names on a long list of what company insiders refer to as "Villalonga's burn unit.
One of the ousted managers apparently raised the insider trading allegations to El Mundo, a Madrid-based daily with close ties to the government. A series of stories run by the paper in June prompted an ongoing investigation by the Spanish securities commission.
Under Villalonga's tenure the company has become far more global. It now has more clients for fixed telephone, mobile and pay TV services in Latin America than it does in Spain, according to Boston-based telecom consultancy Yankee Group. With his background in finance, Villalonga quickly realized that the company could create more value for shareholders by breaking it up in parts than by keeping everything under one roof, says Juan Roure, another IESE professor.