Freeserve boss to follow Sir Iain?

Sir Iain's head might not be the only one for the chop as rumours fly that one of Freeserve's top dogs is also to resign. Meanwhile commentators ponder what the future holds for BT
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

Thursday could turn out to be a black day for the bosses of Internet companies as sources claim one or more of Freeserve's directors could be about to follow Sir Iain Vallance into the wilderness.

According to sources, two top level executives are to leave the ISP today. John Pluthero is currently chief executive of Freeserve, with Sarah Carpenter and Jon Gisby managing directors of marketing and portals respectively. There is no indication which of its bosses is about to leave.

Freeserve is not denying the rumour. "I don't know what is going on but as soon as we hear anything we'll let you know," said a Freeserve spokeswoman.

Meanwhile BT has acted on long-running speculation that the only way to take the company forward is a shakeup in the top ranks. Sir Iain Vallance, chairman of BT since 1987, will stand down on 1 May to make way for ex-BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland. According to Vallance it is a decision he has been thinking about for a while.

"For some time now I have felt it right that I should stand down once we could find an able successor. I am delighted we have now done so and I look forward to maintaining my links with BT," he said in a statement.

Sir Iain will remain with BT as president emeritus until July 2002.

Critics will argue that Vallance was pushed in order to pave the way for the telco to launch a rights issue. From this it hopes to raise up to £10bn to shave a third off its it £30bn debt. There is also a symbolic element to Vallance's departure, representing as he does the old school of telecommunications. It was Vallance that made the now notorious lollipop speech which so enraged the industry in which he likened BT to a lollipop man leading "over-exuberant children" across the information superhighway.

Some see significance in the new chairman coming from a broadcast background and predict a new direction for BT. "If you look at France Telecom and Deutsche Telekon they are shifting towards becoming media companies," said Jupiter MMXI analyst Dan Stevenson. "One could say that BT is also moving in that direction. They may be thinking that if they want to be a major player then that is the direction they need to move in."

Stevenson thinks it is unlikely that BT will offer its own content, predicting instead media partnerships or even acquisitions.

The market has not reacted favourably to the news that Sir Iain is to leave. Shares dropped more than five percent and some commentators suggest that BT will need to sacrifice its chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield if it wants to really pacify disgruntled shareholders.

Is broadband coming to your neighbourhood? Find out with ZDNet UK's Broadband Britain Guide.

In the light of recent events at the BBC and BT Guy Kewney highlights certain similarites between the two organisations and begs the question as to how clever it is to borrow money to finance debt? Guy says that Sir Christopher Bland can't pull miracles out of the hat for the BBC; so there's no reason to suspect he has the faintest idea of what it would take to walk on water at BT. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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