BT's Wealthy New Boss Goes Into the Lion's Den

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- BT Group Plc’s pick to replace its boss Gavin Patterson, a former marketing director at Procter & Gamble Co., is Philip Jansen, a former marketing director at Procter & Gamble Co.

Indeed, it was Jansen – currently co-CEO at Worldpay Inc. – who first brought Patterson into the telecoms world, hiring him at the turn of the millennium for a marketing role at Telewest, as Virgin Media was then known.

But don’t infer that the two managers are cut from the same cloth. In a 2014 profile, Management Today magazine described Patterson as “slim, tall, chisel-jawed, dark-eyed, luxuriant-haired, gentle and genial in manner.” Contrast that with a 2017 Daily Mail interview with Jansen, where he’s described alternately as petulant and exploding with rage.

He has built a reputation as a fearsome operator, and has the results to prove it at Worldpay. His relationship with Jan du Plessis, BT’s forthright chairman, will be interesting. But he’ll also need to tread carefully with U.K. regulators, who’ve become infuriated by the lack of progress on rolling out fiber broadband in the country.

While Jansen has some telecoms experience from Telewest, and his Worldpay spell gives him some tech chops, BT is a very different challenge. He has never led a company that’s favored by investors for its dividend payments. But if he’s going to deliver growth, he may have to accelerate fiber network investment, which would probably necessitate a dividend cut.

He has a bit of time, though. A decision on the payout won't be needed until May, and commitments to invest in Premier League soccer rights and the first round of the 5G spectrum auction have been made already.

That should give Jansen some space to focus on improving operations. The company’s return on capital fell sharply under Patterson, due partly to the acquisition of cellphone operator EE and partly because of network price cuts imposed by the regulator. Jansen’s task may be made easier by the 13,000 job cuts already announced by Patterson. He must decide too whether to retain the Openreach fixed-network business. As I’ve written before, selling a minority stake would help fund other investments.

Jansen is already wealthy. He earned tens of millions of pounds from the Worldpay IPO and subsequent sale. Which prompts questions about why he would take on such a difficult new job. While his years at the helm of Worldpay mean he has experience at a publicly traded company, he has kept a low public profile. Running BT, the former national telecoms operator, will mean far more scrutiny. 

The answer may have more to do with legacy. If Jansen is able to make sense of BT, it’ll be one for posterity.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

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