Facing negative PR all around after announcing a strategic realignment that is to see 13,000 employees made redundant and the closure of its central London HQ after over 100 years, even the good stuff (such as pivoting the organisation towards full-fibre broadband at long last) that BT CEO Gavin Patterson has done in his five years at the top wasn’t enough to save him from jumping before he was pushed.
The news of Patterson’s resignation broke today after it emerged early this week that angry BT shareholders were mobilising against him. In meetings with chairman Jan du Plessis, it appears that both agreed that even though the strategy changes were the right move, he was not the right man to oversee them.
With a long history at the business, Patterson seemed like the sort of safe pair of hands that befits monolithic organisations like BT. He was never a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs-style techno visionary, but that sort of leadership would have been out of place at BT.
On the handful of occasions I met him, he struck me as a generally likeable man, with a slightly rogueish demeanour that reminded me a little of the sort of lads you find found in IT sales organisations. If you transported him back to the 1980s and dropped him in the City of London, he’d fit right in, and would probably drive a white Porsche cabriolet.
With BT facing tough choices over the next few months, I would imagine the organisation will go for another safe pair of hands, someone who knows the business and is ready and able to steer it through the choppy waters ahead.
For me, this suggests BT will look within for its next leader, so it may be worth keeping an eye on some of the likely internal candidates. Who are they, then?
Twice in recent years BT called on the head of its Retail business to step up, and both Ian Livingston and Patterson answered the call. Retail is now BT Consumer, led by EE’s man Marc Allera, but I reckon he’s not steeped enough in the organisation’s culture yet.
The CEO of Global Services, Bas Burger, is probably right out, given its troubles, and for my money, so would be the head of Technology, Service and Operations, Howard Watson, who is more of a tech specialist, but maybe BT would turn to its Business and Public Sector organisation, led by Graham Sutherland, who oversaw a healthy sales bump and some tasty contract wins last year.
Another name in the hat could be Gerry McQuade, CEO at BT Wholesale and Ventures, a declining business unit as traditional voice revenues wither, but would that give him the oomph to drive the wider organisation?
BT could even consider Openreach boss Clive Selley, a tricky proposition given the organisation’s quasi-independent status, and Selley is, again, a very technical man, but might he be able to bring a new perspective to the wider group? Based on my acquaintance with Selley, I have no doubt he would try to do his utmost to keep up the much-needed pressure to build next-generation networks.
And of course, BT could still surprise us all and tap a complete outsider. One thing is for sure, whoever steps up is going to have one hell of a job.