• Jan du Plessis describes BT chairmanship as “not a great time”, but remains confident in Group strategy under CEO Jansen.
  • Unceremonious resignation came amid reports of falling-out between the pair.
  • Newly knighted du Plessis now teed up for UK audit watchdog role.

Ex chair du Plessis wants to “move on” from BT exit

Jan du Plessis

Source: BT

A similar statement was made by BT Group at the time, saying that the Chair’s departure did not reflect a strategic “misalignment between du Plessis’ board and Jansen’s executive team.

Du Plessis added that his departure, announced in March 2021 and formalised at the beginning of December, was something he wanted to put behind him, but that he remained confident in the Group’s forward momentum. “I am convinced”, he said, “that Philip and the board are doing all the right things, and, at the right time, the market will realise this stock is fundamentally undervalued”.

“ It was not a great time in the life of BT, but I want to move on. Honestly, the company is in good shape. The strategy is fine. Philip and I have a good relationship. And I want to leave it at that. ”

du Plessis.

The comments to The Sunday Times came after du Plessis was knighted in the New Year Honours list for 2022, with his short time at BT given particular emphasis in in his commendation for services to telecommunications and business.

He was said to have “reoriented the company to make fundamental investments that are critical to the future success of the UK economy”. These investments included a £15bn commitment to fibre infrastructure, which during his tenure was extended to cover 25 million households, and progress made on the 5G mobile network build. Improvements in customer service at both BT and Openreach were also highlighted.

Next steps

The comments to The Sunday Times came after du Plessis was knighted in the New Year Honours List for 2022, with his short time at BT given particular emphasis in his commendation for services to business and telecommunications.

He was said to have “reoriented the company to make fundamental investments that are critical to the future success of the UK economy”. These investments include a £15bn commitment to fibre infrastructure, which during his tenure was extended to cover 25 million households, and progress made on the 5G mobile network build. Improvements in customer service at both BT and Openreach were also highlighted.

Having put his BT exit behind him, du Plessis appears close to confirming his next project. In December 2021, he was named UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s preferred candidate to chair the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), the UK’s audit watchdog. Kwarteng said du Plessis brings experience leading “some of the UK’s most prominent companies”.

He was nominated for the role following an open competition, and requires parliamentary approval before taking the post for a four-year term. Hearings to scrutinise the nomination will be attended by the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.

A poisoned chalice or turnaround opportunity?

The FRC has been without a permanent chair since the departure of Simon Dingemans in May 2020, who left after just eight months in the job. Keith Skeoch, interim Chair, stepped down in October 2021, alongside senior FRC board member David Childs.

The FRC has seen a turbulent twelve months, facing criticism for a lack of diversity and perceived weakness in governance, according to the Financial Times. The accusations followed the departure of two Non-Executive Directors in mid-2021, Jenny Watson and Julia Unwin, who were removed under government pressure against the recommendations of Skeoch. Sources told the Financial Times that the incident reflected a broader governance problem at an “underweight” FRC. Watson and Unwin’s departures also left the board with a sole female member, Hannah Nixon.

If the appointment is approved, du Plessis will oversee the FRC’s transition to become the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority (ARGA), in an effort to “restore trust in audit and corporate governance”. The government’s review of the FRC found that establishing ARGA required a “refreshed board”, with close communication between the Chair and parliament.

Crozier fills the gap

du Plessis was replaced at BT by Adam Crozier, former Football Association and Royal Mail CEO, at the beginning of December 2021. His appointment was heralded by Jansen as a potential catalyst for a “return to consistent growth”, while Crozier reinforced a commitment to transformation and digital services provision (BTwatch, #327).

Crozier’s first public appearance as BT chair was at the Group’s Manifesto Launch, which coincided with his first day in the role (see separate).

BT Board of Directors, January 2022
DirectorCommitteeAppointed to Board
 Source: BT.

Adam Crozier

  • Nominations (Chair)

2021

Philip Jansen

  • Executive (Chair)
  • Investigatory Powers

2019

Simon Lowth

  • Executive

2016

Adel Al-Saleh

  • Nominations

2020

Sabine Chalmers

  • Audit & Risk
  • Compliance
  • Executive
  • Nominations

2018

Ian Cheshire

  • Audit & Risk
  • Compliance
  • Nominations
  • Remuneration (Chair)

2020

Iain Conn

  • Audit & Risk
  • Investigatory Powers
  • Nominations
  • Renumeration

2014

Isabel Hudson

  • Compliance (Chair)
  • Digital Impact & Sustainability
  • Nominations
  • Remuneration

2014

Matthew Key

  • Audit & Risk (Chair)
  • Nomination
  • Remuneration

2018

Allison Kirby

  • Audit & Risk
  • Compliance
  • Nominations

2019

Leena Nair

  • Digital Impact & Sustainability (Chair)
  • Nominations
  • Remuneration

2019

Sara Weller

  • Audit & Risk
  • Compliance
  • Digital Impact & Sustainability
  • Nominations

2020