BT has hired Sir Michael Rake to replace Sir Christopher Bland as BT chairman. When Bland came in five years ago, he famously had a 10-point to-do list to get the company back in financial shape and back in focus. That worked: divested of its global empire and with a new board, BT is now a credible player again, instead of the sclerotic relic it was in danger of becoming.
Rake now has to decide what to do with the company. Our recommendation is that he invent the BT of 10 years hence, but aim to get there in five — and so, a five-point plan:
1. Create a mobile strategy. Other people's handsets on other people's Wi-Fi and other people's mobile networks isn't a strategy, it's a sticking plaster. By 2017, mobile data will be a much greater part of everyone's work and home life. It doesn't matter what acronyms are involved: build a network that can cope with anything — a 21CN of the air. You have people and partners who know how. Use them.
2. Leapfrog the opposition for connectivity. Will 24Mbps to the home be enough by 2017? Hardly, with Virgin Media going for 50Mbps in the next month or so. You're going to need 10, 20 times the bandwidth. Don't hang about.
3. Services, services, services. You can be a bit carrier for Google. You can be a partner with Google. You can't be Google. Find what you have that the service carriers want and can't get any other way, and make yourself indispensible. And that should shape your mobile and connectivity strategy, too.
4. Become the one-stop shop for comms. From the student in the bedsit to the FTSE 100 boardroom, they have to know that if they pick up the phone to BT with a problem in the morning, the answer will be in place by the afternoon. That doesn't mean selling stuff you happen to control on the terms you dictate. Those days have gone.
5. Finally — and the first thing to do — find your next chief executive. Ben Verwaayen has done a good job bringing BT into the 21st century: when he goes, you'll need a visionary for 21.1. Someone with technical chops, political nous, the force of personality to unite the unruly tribes under his command, and a taste for partnerships. We don't know who this paragon is: we're open to suggestions.
BT is in its best shape for years, which is just as well: the world is changing faster than ever. The company now has the chance to set the rules for the next generation of telco: Rake's job, should he choose to accept it, is to think fast and think big. Nothing less will do.