BT’s Liv Garfield to take top role at Severn Trent

 
Suzie Neuwirth
LIV GARFIELD is leaving BT to take up the chief executive role at FTSE 100-listed water company Severn Trent, the companies announced yesterday.

Garfield is currently chief executive of BT’s Openreach division, where she oversaw the telecoms firm’s £2.5bn commercial roll-out of fibre broadband across the country. She starts her new role in spring 2014, after incumbent boss Tony Wray retires. Garfield will receive a base salary of £650,000 in her new role, with an annual bonus worth up to 120 per cent of her salary.

The water industry is currently under scrutiny for raising customers’ bills. Environment secretary Owen Paterson recently called for the industry to reconsider its price hikes.

“It is a huge wrench to leave Openreach but I feel the time is now right to take on a fresh challenge,” said Garfield.

BT said that Garfield’s successor would be announced “in due course”.

A BT spokesperson told City A.M. that BT will be considering both external and internal candidates. BT typically likes to promote internally, such as in the case of Gavin Patterson who was head of the firm’s retail division before bagging the top role.

Garfield will be one of only three female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies when she takes up the role, though that is expected to rise to four once the newly floated Royal Mail, led by Moya Greene, is promoted to the 100 index in the next reshuffle. Severn Trent shares closed 0.1 per cent lower.

PROFILE: LIV GARFIELD

Yorkshire-born 38-year-old Liv Garfield is most certainly on a roll. She has been feted as successful in her role as chief executive of BT’s Openreach, where she persuaded the telecom group’s boss Gavin Patterson to take a £2.5bn gamble on fibre broadband networks. Surprising many, the gamble paid off, causing take-up and reach of BT’s local access networks to soar this year.

Then in September, she came 10th on Fortune Magazine’s annual 40 Under 40 list, the highest-ranked Briton. The latest feather in her cap is now the top job at Severn Trent, making her one of a mere paddling pool of female FTSE 100 bosses.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Garfield, who has had to deal with accusations against Openreach of anti-competitive behaviour in rural parts of the country. BT was accused of exploiting its semi-monopolistic position in the government-backed roll-out to take up all the contracts. BT hit back, sending a point-by-point set of arguments to MPs saying that its large investment has benefited customers.

All of which should equip her to take on the Severn Trent role in the middle of a highly-charged public debate into utility prices, ahead of the water industry’s latest five-year price cycle in 2015.

“She is a very clever person and has a good strategic and operational perspective,” said a former colleague, who chose not to be named despite his effusive praise.