The Japanese unit of wireless giant Vodafone Group PLC said Monday it has named Shiro Tsuda, former No. 2 officer at rival NTT DoCoMo Inc., as its president and CEO.

The surprise announcement came only a few months after Tsuda, then DoCoMo’s senior executive vice president and considered heir apparent to DoCoMo President Keiji Tachikawa, was passed over for the top job.

“I was moved by Vodafone management’s passion for mobile communications,” Tsuda told reporters in Tokyo in announcing the appointment.

He will assume the top position at Vodafone K.K. on Dec. 1. His predecessor, Darryl Green, resigned in June. Brian Clark, the chairman of the board who has been doubling as president, will stay on as board chairman.

Tsuda, 58, is a 34-year veteran engineer of NTT and NTT DoCoMo. He is known for his expertise in wireless technology and was responsible for launching the i-mode Internet service for mobile phones.

Masao Nakamura was chosen to succeed Tachikawa, a former engineer, when Tachikawa stepped down in June. NTT, DoCoMo’s parent, was reportedly unhappy with the idea of another engineer taking the helm. Nakamura has a background in labor-relations and personnel.

Tsuda said his decision to move to the rival carrier was not borne out of disappointment or because he held a grudge against DoCoMo. He said he switched allegiances because he thought he could make a contribution to the telecommunications industry.

While declining to comment on Nakamura, he took a not-so-vague jab at his new rival.

Although technological expertise alone does not make a good business manager, “in the mobile communications world, it is also difficult to do business if you ignore technology,” he said. “In that sense, I am in a fortunate position.”

Tsuda is faced with daunting task. In Japan, Vodafone lags behind rivals DoCoMo and KDDI Corp., which operates the au service.

In July, Vodafone posted its first-ever decline in subscribers.

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