Sunday, 11 April 2021

BT Group chairman announces retirement

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Monday 01 March 21

Jan du Plessis is stepping down to “focus on other interests”

BT’s chairman, Jan du Plessis, who has served in the position since 2017, has announced he will retire later this year. The search for a successor is now set to begin, with du Plessis set to leave the position as soon as his successor has been appointed. “After 17 years of demanding roles as chairman of significant FTSE companies…

BT’s chairman, Jan du Plessis, who has served in the position since 2017, has announced he will retire later this year. The search for a successor is now set to begin, with du Plessis set to leave the position as soon as his successor has been appointed.

“After 17 years of demanding roles as chairman of significant FTSE companies, I know the time is now right for me to step down and focus on other interests,” he said.

When du Plessis first took over in the position from Sir Mike Rake in 2017, BT was in need of guidance, at the time still recovering from an accounting scandal related to its Italian unit, the reverberations of which still continue to this day. At the same time, the Group’s cash flow was questionable and the company’s relationship with UK regulator Ofcom was somewhat sour, casting a shadow over BT’s future. 

Just seven months after taking on the position in 2017, du Plessis oversaw the replacement of Gavin Patterson by Philip Jansen as CEO, the start of a significant restructuring of the company’s top management team. 

During his tenure, du Plessis also noted a warming of the company’s relationship with Ofcom, at least in part as a result of the company’s pledges surrounding full fibre. 

“Above all, our relationship with Ofcom has improved significantly over the past threeyears and I strongly believe the board’s commitment to invest in a full-fibre network isin the long-term interests of all BT’s stakeholders,” said du Plessis.

But du Plessis’ time as chairman has also been one of strife for BT, with share prices sinking more than 50% during this period. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic last year saw BT decided to suspend its dividend for 18 months. The company’s profits are down and BT still has an expensive 5G rollout to continue, as well as replacing existing Huawei equipment, which BT said at the start of 2020 would cost them £500 million.

As a result, the company is undertaking a major new cost cutting strategy, aiming to save £2 billion by 2025, which includes cutting numerous jobs and office locations. 

Thus, after just four years in the role, du Plessis’ retirement to “focus on other interests” comes at a time of unease for BT. His replacement will surely have his work cut out for him.

 

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