Bonfield to leave BT early?

Sun to rise tomorrow?

Sir Peter Bonfield is to quit as chief exec of BT before his contract ends in December 2002, the FT has reported this morning.

Which is along the same lines as announcing that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. But since the FT has gone to the trouble of sticking it at the top of its Companies & Markets section and listed three of its journalists as the story's writers - including a further two for "additional reporting" - it looks like the paper has gone with it out of overriding commonsense.*

The story claims Pete, 57, is likely to go in the middle of next year "according to people close to the issue".

The logic, which is faultless, is that Pete will leave after BT has finished its restructure and everything has settled. If you remember, Sir Bonfield was kept on after chairman Sir Iain Vallance was kicked out (following FD Robert Brace). There was an almighty battle at the time (April) between Vallance and Bonfield over who would go and Bonfield won.

His contract was extended by new chairman Sir Christopher Bland for 12 months and he was offered an £820,000 bonus if he stayed til the end of it to oversee the restructure. Well, BT Wireless is close to flotation, the company has ruled out demerging the retail and network businesses and it looks as though BT has finally sorted out its problems with Concert, so what's the point of keeping Sir Peter around when BT is now a very different beast? We're sure the bonus can also be carefully managed to turn into a restructure bonus as opposed to an end-of-term bonus.

Bland was right to keep Bonfield on, especially since BT looked so uneasy at the time. The extended contract and mass denials of his leaving gave it some stability. Plus of course there was no heir apparent.

That's all changed and the next chief exec of BT is going to have to lead it forward as opposed to hang on its glorious past and Sir Pete is definitely not the man for that job. So step forward Pierre Danon, who is a breath of fresh air at BT and has a healthy obsession with customer service - exactly what BT needs to focus on as it turns from the guardian of a telecoms network to a services company.

When Pete finally does go, we've already promised we'll be outside BT's headquarters with a ghetto blaster playing Hanging on the Telephone. ®

* In fact, we called BT just last week to ask about rumours Bonfield would be leaving early. That was "very doubtful" a spokeswoman told us.

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