BT Retail boss Livingston to be chief executive

Ben Verwaayen, the man credited with BT's push into broadband, has stepped down as CEO and handed over the reins to Ian Livingston, head of the retail division.

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Ben Verwaayen, the man credited with BT's push into broadband, has stepped down as CEO and handed over the reins to Ian Livingston, head of the retail division.

Livingston, currently boss of the company’s Retail division that sells phone and data services to home and business users, will take the post on 1 June, after Verwaayen steps down. His annual basic salary will be £850,000 with further remuneration if he hits targets, according to reports in the press. Gavin Patterson, managing director at BT’s consumer arm, will run BT Retail.

The telecommunications firm praised Livingston’s work so far, saying in a statement: “Under his leadership, BT Retail has returned to growth and sharply increased profitability.” Livingston was also a finance director at BT, and previously at electricals retailer Dixons.

Last year, the company said it was using sophisticated business intelligence programs to retain in particular its high-profit customers in a competitive market, and target them more effectively with promotions.

Ben Verwaayen steps down after six years in the hot seat at BT. He became chief executive at BT in 2002, after being at the helm of telecoms hardware manufacturer Lucent. He has been accredited with pushing BT aggressively into broadband at times when fixed line revenues were falling fast.

“Ben has done more than anyone else to make Britain the most competitive broadband market in the world,” said BT chairman Sir Mike Rake.

Rake called Verwaayen “an exceptional CEO whose courage and leadership has transformed BT from being a deeply troubled organisation into a thriving business with global capability and a clear strategy for the future”.

Verwaayen, sometimes known as an abrasive character with much self conviction, also pushed for the expansion of the company’s IT services wing, BT Global Services, which is now a key revenue driver for the group.

Following extensive discussions with telecoms regulator Ofcom, BT under Verwaayen's watch agreed to set up Openreach in 2005, a division that promised to allow all other operators fair access to BT’s sought after network.

Verwaayen has also been awarded a Légion d’Honneur medal by the French government for his services to global telecommunications, and recently received an honorary knighthood.

BT will next month release its annual report for results to 31 March. Revenue was £20.2 billion in the year to March 2007, generating a 15 percent pre-tax profit jump to £2.5 billion.

But in the last quarter, BT’s wholesale division dragged on group profits as rival telecoms firms set up their own networks instead of buying access from BT. Pre-tax profits fell by 7 percent year-on-year, and the company’s share price has dropped 30 percent in the last nine months.

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