BT silent on rumours of Bonfield's early exit

Chief executive is reportedly planning to resign next summer once BT's restructuring is completed

Sir Peter Bonfield, chief executive of BT, is rumoured to be planning to leave his post six months earlier than planned.

According to Friday's Financial Times, Bonfield is thought likely to stand down next summer. His contract runs until the end of 2002, but it seems likely that the restructuring strategy that he is co-ordinating will be completed earlier than planned. The FT attributes its story to un-attributed comments made by "a number of people involved" in this process, and tips Pierre Danon -- head of BT retail -- as a likely successor.

BT officials are refusing to shed any light on the rumours. "The story is just speculation about speculation," said a BT spokesman. "Sir Peter Bonfield has made no public statement on the matter".

BT said earlier this week that it was no longer planning to split its retail business from its network operations. This move was at the heart of the restructuring strategy that Bonfield was heading, and its cancellation means the process is unlikely to last until the end of 2002, as previously thought. According to rumours, BT will conclude the break-up of Concert, its joint venture with AT&T, next week.

Bonfield joined BT in 1996. Soon after arriving, he was blamed by some investors for BT's failure to buy US telco MCI, after BT dropped the value of its bid.

Anyone who bought shares in BT at the time of Bonfield's arrival was pretty happy in 1999, when they reached a peak of £15 compared to £4 three years earlier. However, today, BT's shares change hands for less than £3.50.

Critics of Bonfield usually blame him for BT's perceived failure to become a world player in the Internet arena. In some quarters the company is accused of obstructing the rollout of high-speed Web access services, while some experts claim that BT could have made much more progress with innovative Internet and mobile technologies.

Last year the head of e-business at the Institute of Directors Jim Norton called for Bonfield to be sacked, claiming he had lost the plot over local-loop unbundling and ADSL rollout.

In Bonfield's defence, incumbent operators in many other European countries have been having an pretty hard time recently as well.

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