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July 31, 2023

BT makes surprise new CEO appointment

Allison Kirby has taken the top job at the UK's biggest telco, despite some shareholder unease over her other commitments.

By Matthew Gooding

BT has appointed Allison Kirby as its new CEO. The move comes as something of a surprise given that Kirby, who has served as a non-executive director at the company since 2019, was the subject of criticism from shareholders at the company’s AGM last month.

BT has announced Allison Kirby will succeed Philip Jansen as the company’s CEO. (Photo courtesy of BT’s press office)

Kirby will take over from outgoing chief executive Philip Jansen in January 2024, and will be tasked with steering the UK’s biggest telco through the next phase of its development. Under Jansen’s leadership, BT has focused on building its enterprise offering and delivering fibre broadband to business and consumer customers through its Openreach infrastructure arm.

BT appoints Alison Kirby as CEO

Kirby has worked in the industry for several years, and is currently president and CEO of Swedish telco Telia Company. Her CV also features spells at two other telcos, TDC and Tele2, as well as Virgin Media.

She was thrust into the spotlight earlier this month when 12% of company shareholders who voted at its AGM opposed her reappointment to the board on the basis that she holds too many director positions elsewhere. Alongside Telia, she is a non-executive director at Brookfield Asset Management.

Her salary as CEO will be £1.1m, with the ability to earn bonuses of up to £2.2m.

Marc Allera, BT’s consumer chief, had been widely tipped for the CEO role, but Adam Crozier, the company’s chairman said its board is “delighted” to have appointed Kirby to the top job. “She is a proven leader, with deep sector experience and a history of having transformed businesses,” Crozier said. I look forward to supporting her as we drive our long-term strategy to transform BT Group, ensuring it delivers for all our stakeholders.”

New BT CEO faces a big challenge

Jansen, who has been in-post since 2019, oversaw a period of change at BT, with the company’s share price dropping 50% in the past five years.

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This year it suffered a 12% dip in profits, leading to an announcement that it plans to cut 55,000 jobs over the next six years, with many of the roles being replaced with AI. It currently employs around 130,000 full-time staff and contractors.

BT’s Openreach business unit has been heavily involved in the fibre broadband rollout across the UK, and Jansen said at the time that many of the job cuts will come in this segment of the business as the rollout comes to an end.

Kirby said: “BT is such an important company for the UK, and our many customers both in the UK and internationally, and is uniquely placed to help everyone benefit from the rapid advances in digitalisation.

“Our products and services have never been more important to how our customers live and work, and thanks to the significant investment BT is putting into digital infrastructure and in the modernisation of its services, I see us playing an even more important role going forward.”

She added: “Having been a member of the BT board for the past four years, I’m fully supportive of our strategy and am excited about leading it into its next phase of development, as we grow to support customers, shareholders and the UK economy.”

Read more: Can UK telecoms innovation make it a world leader in 5G?

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