BT hits back at claims of boardroom row

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Simon Foy
·2 min read
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Jan Du Plessis
Jan Du Plessis

BT has hit back at claims that its chairman resigned following a boardroom bust-up with its chief executive over the company's strategy.

In a brief statement, the company said "there has been no misalignment between the board and executive management over the company's strategy".

It added: "The chairman throughout his tenure has demonstrated strong leadership of the company, been extremely supportive of management and any suggestion that he has impeded the transformation of BT is without foundation."

Chief executive Philip Jansen reportedly threatened to resign after he clashed with Jan du Plessis on several issues, including over the potential sale of its broadband network arm Openreach. The row was first reported by Sky News.

The company did not deny that Mr Jansen threatened to quit the telecoms giant if it failed to find a new chairman who could accelerate change, however.

BT said: "The company announced on March 1 the intention of Jan du Plessis to retire as chairman in 2021 once a successor has been appointed, and we are very sorry he will be leaving."

Mr Jansen is attempting to modernise BT's operations, with thousands of job cuts, and is said to be keen to take more steps quickly.

It is understood that he became frustrated with Mr du Plessis' slower style of exploring issues from every angle.

Regarding the future ownership structure of Openreach – the company's most valuable asset – Mr du Plessis is said to have agreed with the board that it was too soon to bring in an outside shareholder and saw the issue as settled, while Mr Jansen wanted to keep the question open, believing it could help fund the broadband upgrade and boost the share price.

Mr Jansen has left a number of non-executive board members "extremely annoyed" over suggestions the board and the chairman were barriers to a faster overhaul of BT, according to the Financial Times.

Mr Jansen, the former boss of payments processor Worldpay, is trying to lay the foundations for sustainable growth at BT by investing to meet the Government's target of covering 85pc of the UK with full-fibre broadband by 2025.

Mr du Plessis is one of Britain's most experienced chairmen, having chaired British American Tobacco and SAB Miller. He has also held non-executive positions at Marks & Spencer and Lloyds Banking Group.

Shares closed down 2.9pc to 137.3p. The stock surged almost 5pc last Friday following reports about the potential feud.