It took BT Group less than a month to name a replacement after Philip Jansen called time on his four-year stint as CEO, opting for current Telia boss Allison Kirkby, who will take the reins at some point between now and end-January 2024.
While Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Tom Ward described Kirkby’s departure from Telia to BT as a surprise, on the surface the appointment seems to be an obvious one.
Not only has Kirkby got the necessary experience given her previous stints of running Tele2 Group between 2015 and 2018, Denmark-based TDC between 2018 and 2020 and Telia for the past three years, but she has also served on BT’s board as a non-executive director since 2019.
Her time on BT’s board was heralded by the executive herself, who said she fully supports its current strategy, while chair Adam Crozier made similar noises for the rationale of the appointment.
Stick with the plan
James Robinson, senior analyst at Assembly Research, told Mobile World Live it appeared on the surface Kirkby should be “well up for the challenges that lie ahead” and may well prove to be someone “to pursue implementation of the current plan rather than look to effect big changes”.
Indeed, the job comes with a hefty to-do list. Kirkby will be tasked with navigating a major cost-cutting drive, following through on a plan initiated by Jansen to cut between 40,000 and 55,000 jobs over the next seven years.
Investment and deployment of AI will play into the shake-up, with 10,000 of those jobs tipped to be replaced by the technology.
A takeover could also be in the cards, with French billionaire Patrick Drahi recently building up a near 25 per cent stake in the operator group, although he has insisted there are no plans to make an offer.
Under Jansen, BT also pushed a heavy fibre rollout, which will no doubt continue.
Paolo Pescatore, founder of PP Foresight, concurred the appointment is in line with the current strategy and it appears Kirkby is set to continue following Jansen’s transformational programme.
However, he noted managing BT was no easy feat due to numerous stakeholders, including regulator Ofcom, the UK government, pension funds and unions.
“An external person always needs time to get up to speed and establish new connections with everyone.”
Indeed, when Jansen’s departure was announced, Pescatore suggested there could be an internal hire, tipping the company’s current consumer boss Marc Allera as a prime candidate.
“Arguably it might have been time to promote from within the ranks rather than recruit another external CEO,” he added.
It is, however worth noting Kirkby will become BT’s first ever female CEO, along with being one of only nine women leading a FTSE100 company.
Another one of those nine women was also appointed recently, not least at one of BT’s chief rivals, with Margherita Della Valle snagging the top job at Vodafone Group to replace Nick Read permanently in April.
While both jobs appear similar on the face off it, Robinson argued Kirkby’s “contrasts potentially to the transformation Della Valle is looking to bring about over at Vodafone”, with the company pursuing a merger with 3 UK and the future of several European operations up in the air.
It would be remiss not to mention the other party impacted by Kirkby’s new job at BT.
The executive will leave Telia at a time when it is embarking on its own corporate restructuring plan, also revolved around cost savings and slashing debt.
Bloomberg pointed out the company had lost around 30 per cent of its market value under Kirkby’s leadership, but a telling sign of her influence is arguably the fact the stock price declined as much as 4.4 per cent after the news of her departure to BT broke.
In its own announcement, Telia was complementary to Kirkby, stating she had led the company through a period of major transformation, implementing renewed focus on the Nordics and Baltics.
A major part of Kirkby’s time at Telia was managing the integration of Sweden’s biggest commercial TV station, purchased shortly before she took the helm. However, its entrance into the TV market has been marred by challenges.
In a research note, Stefan Ward, an analyst at investment company Pareto Securities, noted Kirkby had done a good job on improving the core telecoms operations at Telia, but areas of weakness including TV and media had overshadowed positive results, Bloomberg reported.
Telia stated it is “starting a recruitment process to find the new CEO”, suggesting an appointment wouldn’t be made as quickly as the 21 days it took BT to snag its new boss.