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Analysts: New CEO of CWC is ‘driven’

Bentley is ‘good manager with reputation for achieving efficiencies’
  • Phil Bentley.

Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 21, 2013

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British telecoms analysts have described incoming Cable and Wireless Communications Chief Executive Officer Phil Bentley as “driven” and a “good manager” with a reputation for achieving efficiencies.

Speaking with Guardian Business on condition of anonymity as they were circumventing official channels, senior analysts at top London investment banks both said Bentley, who will soon become chairman of the board of the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC), has a strong track record of whipping companies into shape.

“The change in CEO is not all that surprising. The guy coming in has a record for being a good manager and running businesses tightly and taking what is probably a bit of a bloated legacy business and making it more efficient,” said one analyst. Bentley previously served as CEO of British Gas. Under his leadership, sales at British Gas increased by more than 30 percent while profits increased from £300 million to £1.1 billion.

His move to join CWC comes as it relocates its headquarters to Miami, Florida, while re-orienting its focus to the Caribbean and Latin American markets.

He takes over from Tony Rice, who in the role of chairman of BTC had previously engaged in negotiations with the government over the Christie administration’s desire to take back two percent of the ownership of BTC from the telecoms company, a move which, if successful, would leave CWC with a 49 percent stake.

Turning to The Bahamas, the analyst speculated that Bentley’s arrival “doesn’t have a great bearing on what happens” with BTC, suggesting that there is less work left to be done to achieve efficiencies in The Bahamas than in other Caribbean countries where CWC has acquired government-owned telecoms companies.

“They’ve reduced labor levels in the business (when acquisitions have occurred), but I would think that has already happened in The Bahamas so we would be less likely to see more of that type of effort there at this point,” said one of the two analysts on Friday.

“The business in the rest of the Caribbean is far less profitable than it should be. There’s lots of cost and not much revenue. Bentley has been pretty good (in improving things) in that regard and that’s probably what [CWC] is after,” he added, noting that in investor conference calls CWC has indicated that it is “pretty pleased with how things are going in The Bahamas, and have pointed to it as a benchmark for getting better efficiency in the rest of the Caribbean”.

Another analyst said that Bentley would likely attack some of the challenges facing CWC with more vigor than his predecessor.

Where Rice may have had the contacts and relationship management skills that caused businessman Franklyn Wilson, who chairs the committee set up by the government to take back the two percent of BTC, to state last Thursday that negotiating with Rice over the issue was “a pleasure”, the analyst suggested Bentley will initially face the challenge of establishing these types of relationships in the region.

“Tony Rice is a fairly seasoned CEO/chairman, [but] I sense that he has probably run out of energy to really drum all of the really various operations into shape and the group could do with a more dynamic leader at the helm.

“Tony is a good people person; he’s good at managing relationships with governments, but maybe not necessarily pounding the table wanting performance from his managers every day of the week.”

“My sense is that Phil Bentley is a bit more driven, but doesn’t have those contacts in the region and that will take some time to build up.”

With respect to negotiations over the two percent of BTC which the government would like to reacquire, one analyst said that taking a minority stake in the company would run contrary to what CWC would naturally wish to see happen. Noting that CWC currently has a minority stake in the Trinidad and Tobago telecoms company, TSTT, the analyst said the company has indicated it would prefer to gain a majority stake there.

“They’d also like to buy the other half of Panama (CWC Panama).”

“From an ownership point of view I think the government has to make a decision on how it wants the business to be run,” said the analyst of the Bahamian negotiations.

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