BT's nightmare removed on Halloween

Sir Peter Bonfield's BT career highlights

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With classic poor timing Sir Peter Bonfield chose Halloween to announce that he was finally to leave BT as CEO. The ghoul who has done more than anyone else to turn the company from a jewel in the UK's crown to a telco tramp has finally been exorcised.

BT's share price has only gone up two per cent on the news, but then BT has effectively been run by new chairman Sir Christopher Bland since April.

Anyway, while we were here, we thought we'd give you a brief rundown of Sir Peter's career at BT through the eyes of The Register.

We have written 101 stories in which Bonfield has featured - the 101st titled simply "BT's Bonfield quits". Sir Peter Bonfield joined BT in 1996, but the first story we wrote about him was on 12 March 1999, where, as CEO, he was spelling out his dream to become an international power.

Here's a chronology from there:

July 1999 - BT's glory days. Sir Peter got an eight per cent pay increase with £2.5 million in bonuses. Oddly, £725,000 of that came from from not managing to buy MCI before Worldcom got there. But what the hell, BT profits were up 30 per cent to £4.3 billion.

November 1999 - Things start looking a bit funny though. Pre-tax profits are £890 million, compared to £1.878 billion last year. Just costs of restructuring Pete tells us. He gets into the first of many arguments with the ISPA as he rules out free local calls like they have in the US. There's "no such thing as a free lunch" he tells us. His claim that BT will "slash the cost of dial-up Internet access" turns out to be rubbish.

5 January 2000 - AT&T and BT announce the $10 billion joint venture, Concert. "This is a new company for the new Millennium addressing the massive growth in e-business in the Internet-enabled global economy," says Sir Peter. It's a complete disaster and costs BT billions of pounds before it is put out of its misery almost two years later.

February 2000 - Chancellor Gordon Brown makes a speech about reducing the cost of Net access - £2 billion is wiped off BT. Sir Peter tells Gordon to mind his own business. He says of local loop unbundling: "We have already agreed with Oftel a deadline of July 1, 2001 and there will be no change to this date without our agreement." LLU becomes a major issue at BT drags its feet continually from this point on.

April 2000 - Pete outlines "major structural changes". He denies it is little more than "rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic".

May 2000 - Tells conference they will have to go to night school to use the Internet because they won't be able to afford it. Full-year profits falls 32 per cent, shares fall 70p to 922p, wiping £4.6 billion off the company's value. Sir Peter Bonfield tells us it is nothing to worry about. Refuses to be drawn on selling BTOpenworld. We ask for him to resign for the first time.

July 2000 - Announces BT Cellnet might be sold off. Yell will be sold off. But maybe not. Oftel accuses BT for the first time of being anti-competitive.

August 2000 - BT categorically denies it is to scrap a £1.2 billion plan to set up a network of Internet data centres. One of many such "special" denials.

September 2000 - Share price falls on rumour that BT credit status is to be re-examined. The FD finally promises to cut £30 billion debt by £10 billion. A signed picture of Sir Peter fetches £7 at a children's charity auction.

October 2000 - FD Robert Brace quits - shares go up eight per cent. BT Cellnet float looks more likely. Shares fall. So Sir Pete denies any break up.

November 2000 - "You need to hit BT with a club five times and on the sixth they come up with what you want. We have had trench warfare all this summer," says David Edmonds, head of Oftel. BT's shares down 50p (6.35 per cent) to 738p when BT finally admits it is splitting up.

December 2000 - Denies the UK govt is investigating BT and somehow persuades MPs that he is working to speed up the unbundling process. We bang our heads against the wall.

January 2001 - BT wins the Internet villain award as part of the annual ceremony hosted by the Internet Service Providers Association

February 2001 - Pete starts complaining about cost of 3G licences. BT suffering hugely under weight of debt.

March 2001 - Pete denies debt crisis talks. BT is "happy" with its share in Japan Telecom - which it then sells two months later. Talk of a £5 billion bond is "rumour and speculation" and also true. Other people start calling for him to resign.

April 2001 - After a vicious and nasty battle with chairman Sir Iain Vallance, Bonfield wins out and Vallance quits.

May 2001 - "I'm not a quitter and I love my critics", he tells the press after being given a new contract until December 2002. BT unveils its first ever loss. Share price down 70 per cent. A new new restructuring plan comes into force as Sir Peter has his decision-making powers rescinded by Bland.

June 2001 - Bonfield to quit in six months. Oh no he's not, says BT. Oh yes he is.

July 2001 - Profits down 71 per cent.

September 2001 - Demerger plans out

October 2001 - Final death of Concert. More rumours of his departure denied.

31 October 2001 - He quits. At last. ®

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