BT unanimously backs Rio Tinto chair Jan du Plessis to deal with "continuing challenges"

Oliver Gill
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Rio Tinto Holds Annual General Meeting
Jan du Plessis will step down as chairman of Rio Tinto and will join BT in June before formally taking over as chair of the board in November (Source: Getty)

BT has announced Rio Tinto's Jan du Plessis will take over as chairman of the telecoms giant from November.

Du Plessis succeeds Sir Mike Rake who will step down after 10 years in the job. He admitted it was "an important time" for BT while Rake highlighted the new chairman will face "continuing challenges".

The FTSE 100 firm beat Sky to securing the exclusive TV rights to European Champions League football earlier this week, but is facing a showdown with regulators over its cash generative fixed line infrastructure arm Openreach.

Linked to the Openreach discussions are negotiations with the trustees over its £9bn pension deficit.

Read more: BT pays £1.2bn to win Champions League football battle

BT also has to finalise its investigation into a £530m accounting blackhole in its Italian arm and in January surprised investors with a profit warning – the double whammy of events sent the group's shares into freefall.

Du Plessis labelled BT a "great British company", and was quick to praise his soon to be predecessor.

"Mike has done an outstanding job as chairman over the last 10 years.

This is an important time for the company and I look forward to working with [chief executive] Gavin and his team to help BT continue to support Britain's digital future.

Unanimous approval

BT's senior independent director Nick Rose led the search for Rake's replacement. Du Plessis' appointment was met with unanimous approval from BT's board.

"Our desire was to find someone with deep experience of leading high profile organisations and who would also have credibility with our key stakeholders," said Rose.

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Du Plessis has been chairman of Rio Tinto since 2009 and was previously chair of SABMiller and BAT while also acting as a senior independent director of Marks an Spencer.

Sir Mike Rake said: "Over the past 10 years, BT has made huge progress and we have transformed and expanded the business.

Whilst clearly there are continuing challenges, the performance of the company remains on track. This gives me great confidence in its future and I wish Jan every success as he leads BT at this important time.

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