Home5G & BeyondRetiring BT chair leaves more questions than answers

    Retiring BT chair leaves more questions than answers


    Jan du Plessis is to leave after fewer than four years in the job.

    The Chair of BT, Jan du Plessis, has said he wants to step down and focus on other interests after 17 years at the helm of various FTSE 100 companies. He will continue to chair BT’s board until a new chair has been found.

    His tenure saw CEO Gavin Patterson replaced by Philip Jansen, after the former’s disastrously expensive investment in football broadcast rights did not pay off and the UK found itself lagging almost every other European economy regarding fibre penetration.

    BT is anxiously waiting for Ofcom’s market review of the UK’s fixed infrastructure that will decide how fast and what returns the incumbent can expect for upgrading its network and rolling out fibre nationally at an estimated cost of £12 billion.

    Also, 5G spectrum auction is looming, as are those football rights for the Premier League and of course, BT still has that £10 billion hole in its pension fund – another own goal for taking a so-called pensions holiday instead of stashing money in better times.

    Have we hit the bottom yet?

    In the last year, BT has continued to offload parts of its struggling Global business and its share price fell so low that there was speculation it could be a takeover target.

    There were also rumours of it selling a stake in Openreach – Jansen said he was “openminded” about the possiblity, but is yet to join the towerco club.

    Then there is the pending merger of Telefonica UK/O2 and Virgin Media, which if all goes to plan should result in tougher competition in the UK market.

    When du Plessis took on the role of BT Chair in 2017, its share price was £3 and now it has struggled back up from a low of £1 to £1.26.

    Perhaps the biggest achievement from the du Plessis era is BT has a better relationship with regulator Ofcom, but BT’s Openreach has already been shouting the odds about the possible terms of the upcoming market review and there’s no guarantee it will stay that way.

    Indeed, many would argue that the incumbent and regulator should not be on too friendly terms.