Virgin Media searches for new leader as chief executive prepareto log off

Virgin Media searches for new leader as chief executive prepares to log off

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The international cable giant Liberty Global has launched a hunt for a new leader for its British operation Virgin Media, to work alongside chief executive Tom Mockridge as he prepares to step down.

Mr Mockridge, who has run Virgin Media since Liberty Global took control in a 15bn takeover five years ago, is expected to vacate his 3m-a-year chief executive role in 2019.

Liberty Global, controlled by the Colorado-based billionaire Cable Cowboy John Malone, has appointed the headhunter Spencer Stuart to seek a new chief operating officer with a view to promotion to the top job next year. A source with knowledge of the process described it as a managed transition.

The search is expected to cover internal and external candidates. Former chief operating officer Dana Strong was heir apparent to Mr Mockridge within Virgin Media until she was poached by the US cable giant and Sky suitor Comcast earlier this year.

Mr Mockridge, a New Zealand-born former Murdoch executive who will turn 64 next year and who led Sky Italia until he was parachuted into the phone hacking crisis at News International in 2011, has overseen both deep cost-cutting and heavy investment at Virgin Media.

Under Liberty Global ownership the operator has repeatedlymade hundreds of staff redundantand increasingly turned to outsourcers.

It has also committed 3bn to a major network investment, Project Lightning, that is due to expand cable coverage from half to two thirds of the country by 2020. Liberty Global was forced to admit last year that the project had fallen behind schedule afterVirgin Media uncovered evidence that progress reports had been manipulated.

Mr Mockridge also launched a successful campaign to force the Premier League to sell more live broadcasting rights, although the extra packages of matches introduced in the triennial auction this year remain unsold.

Britains sole cable operator, created in the 2005 merger of NTL and Telewest, is Liberty Globals biggest business and the cornerstone of the complex financial structure that uses accumulated losses and cheap debt to minimise tax bills and maximise returns for Mr Malones Wall Street backers.

Moves to strengthen its senior management have begun amid major upheaval elsewhere in Liberty Global that will make Virgin Media an even more crucial part of its empire.

Last week itagreed to sell its cable networks Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romaniato Vodafone. The deal is due to bring in €10.6bn in cash.

Chief executive Mike Fries has said he is keeping his options open amid speculation that it could swoop on ITV or the mobile operator O2 to reinforce Virgin Media as the UK market moves towards connectivity packages that combine fixed-line and mobile internet services.BT made its first big move towards convergencethis week as it seeks to exploit its position as Britains biggest broadband provider and owner of the EE mobile network.

A spokesman for Liberty Global said the company was not seeking to replace Mr Mockridge.

He said: We are recruiting for a replacement for Dana Strong, Virgin Medias former chief operating officer.

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