Sir Peter Bonfield, chief executive of British Telecommunications (BT), is to leave his post at the end of January, nearly a year earlier than planned. His departure caps off a six-year career with the company and will net him a nearly £1.5m payout.
The move, announced late on Tuesday, confirmed speculation that Bonfield would leave early after the quicker-than-expected windup of a major restructuring plan. That restructuring has seen BT reduce its massive debt load, though only with the sacrifice of its once-ambitious international agenda.
BT has concluded a joint venture with AT&T, arranged the demerger of its wireless division, mmO2, and sold off other British and international assets. Shares today are worth slightly less than when Bonfield arrived.
MmO2's demerger is due to be completed soon, bringing the restructuring to a close. BT had earlier planned to split retail and network operations, but the move has been scrapped.
"We have almost completed the very radical transformation programme which we started last year. A string of profitable and timely disposals, coupled with a successful rights issue, have helped us to reduce debt ahead of schedule," Bonfield said in a statement. "This is the right time to announce a change."
He said he is planning to continue his involvement in the technology field, but with a more international focus. No successor was announced, but Pierre Danon, head of BT retail, has been tipped as a likely choice.
Bonfield will receive his salary, bonus and other benefits for another year, amounting to £1,485,000, and will keep his executive share awards and deferred bonus plan share awards, which are receivable over the next three years.
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.
ZDNet UK's Graeme Wearden contributed to this report.
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