Belgium government shows door to outspoken Belgacom boss

Government shows door to outspoken Belgacom boss

18 NOV 2013

The Belgian government has fired Didier Bellens (pictured), the chief executive of Belgacom, after apparently making a barbed comment about Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

According to a Bloomberg report, Bellens told a business club in Brussels that he only heard from Di Rupo at the end of the year when he wanted to find out how much the dividend would be – the government holds a 53.5 per cent stake in Belgacom.

Bellens reportedly likened the prime minister to “a small child who’s asking when Santa’s coming”.

It’s not the only time Bellens has fallen foul of authorities in recent months. Belgacom’s chief has been openly critical of Brussels’ strict radiation policies that restrict 4G networks in Belgium’s capital city.

“Repeated criticism and incidents have irrevocably undermined the confidence of the Belgian government in Mr. Didier Bellens,” Prime Minister Elio di Rupo told a news conference, quoted by Reuters. “For this reason the federal government recalls Mr Didier Bellens from the post of the chief executive of Belgacom.”

Not everyone will be glad to see Bellens go. Under his ten-year stewardship, Belgacom has delivered annual dividends of about 5 per cent since the company’s IPO in 2004.

In sharp contrast a string of European incumbents, including KPN, Telecom Italia, Telekom Austria and Telefonica, have either been forced to cut or scrap payouts altogether to try and shore up their balance sheets.

“Bellens has done a fine job at Belgacom, balancing investments with a consistent payout policy,” Thomas Deschepper, an analyst at KBC Securities in Brussels, wrote in a note, quoted by Bloomberg.

There are signs, however, that Belgacom is entering choppier waters on the dividend, which may have contributed to government anxiety.

Markit, a financial research firm, identifies Belgacom as one of several European operators that look likely to drag down overall payout levels from the telecoms sector this year.

Markit reckons Belgacom will have to trim its annual dividend payment by more than 30 per cent because of low free cash flow.

CFO Ray Stewart and chairman Stefaan De Clerck will take on Bellens’ responsibilities until a successor is named. Stewart will also chair the management committee.

The operator said it will start looking for a new CEO immediately.

Author

Ken Wieland

Ken has been part of the MWC Mobile World Daily editorial team for the last three years, and is now contributing regularly to Mobile World Live. He has been a telecoms journalist for over 15 years, which includes eight...More

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