New chairman of BT says telecoms giant is ‘prepared for anything’, as rules preventing its largest shareholder launching a takeover set to expire
In the hot seat: BT chairman Adam Crozier
The new chairman of BT has said the telecoms giant is ‘prepared for anything’, as rules preventing its largest shareholder launching a takeover expire this week.
Patrick Drahi’s company Altice UK took a 12.1 per cent stake in BT in June, worth £2.2billion. A six-month period preventing him from launching a takeover under City rules expires on Saturday.
Sources told The Mail on Sunday that Adam Crozier, who joined the board last month, had already met with Drahi before officially taking the chair last Wednesday.
Franco-Israeli telecoms tycoon Drahi has backed BT’s strategy to roll out full-fibre broadband to 25million homes by 2026. But his intentions remain unclear and Ministers are monitoring the situation.
Asked whether BT was ready for the end of the Drahi lock-out, Crozier told the MoS: ‘We have a massive agenda to deliver. And we need everyone in the company fully focused on that.
‘Our job is to be very much focused offensively on what we can do to make BT more successful – and then be prepared for anything that happens at any stage.’
The MoS reported last week that private equity firms including CVC and Apax and investment funds Brookfield and Macquarie had run the rule over BT’s infrastructure arm Openreach in case Drahi forced a sell-off of the division, which is valued at as much as £40billion. The shares rose rapidly on Monday in response. They were further spurred by reports later that day, which speculated that India’s Reliance Industries was weighing a takeover.
The oil-to-telecoms conglomerate, controlled by India’s richest person Mukesh Ambani, later denied that it had ‘any intent to bid’.
The stock ended the week up nine per cent at £1.68.
Former Royal Mail, ITV and Football Association boss Crozier succeeded Jan du Plessis who retired amid reports of tensions with CEO Philip Jansen over the pace of change at BT. In his first public comments since taking the job, Crozier said: ‘These are huge targets in terms of the rollout of fibre and 5G. It’s no mean feat to get that delivered on time, or ideally faster than on time and on budget.’
He added: ‘What we do matters to the country, the economy, to our customers and people. There’s a lot to be done in terms of transforming the company and what we do.’ Crozier refused to comment on relations with Drahi or plans for Openreach.
Buyout giant KKR’s €33billion (£28billion) bid for Telecom Italia has sparked a fresh flurry of take-over speculation in the telecoms sector. Infrastructure assets capable of delivering reliable returns have proved particularly attractive.
However, complexities around the pension schemes of BT and Openreach and potential political interventions are seen as hurdles to any deal in the City.
• Meanwhile, it emerged this weekend that potential Openreach suitor CVC is eyeing a stock market float. The Sunday Times said a float of the Six Nations and RAC breakdown recovery firm could value the fund giant at more than £11billion. Such an IPO is likely to attract intense scrutiny after a wave of criticism over private equity ownership.