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Business Analysis & Features

Telecom star Liv Garfield set for splash landing

Liv Garfield, head of BT Openreach, will become only the fifth female CEO in the FTSE 100 when she takes over at Severn Water

For anyone lacking a subscription to Telecom Networks News the name Liv Garfield might well have come as something of a surprise when she was appointed next chief executive of the giant Severn Trent Water yesterday.

After all, in her stint at BT Ms Garfield ended up running probably the most boring part of a not so exciting company. For the last two and half years she has been chief executive of Openreach – which looks after the “last mile” of copper wire or fibre to a home or business, and whose name you see on thousands of engineers’ vans.

Seventeen million premises now have fibre connections, up from four million when she took over. Yet this is hardly the stuff of the £1bn Champions League football rights deal with which BT was grabbing the headlines last week.

Of course, the fact that Ms Garfield is blonde, 38, has two young children and sports a natty line in heels ensures she is today’s headline in the predominantly grey-suited, male world of business.

Ms Garfield is likely to be only the fourth serving female chief executive of a FTSE 100 company when she joins Severn Trent next spring.

The company has only recently seen off a £5.1bn hostile takeover bid from a Canadian-led consortium and is facing increasing furore over rising water bills for consumers. An appearance before the Commons Business committee is certain to be one of the early dates in her diary.

Her appointment – after a long search by headhunters, Severn Trent assures us – also raises the question: can anyone at the top of business run any company?

If a methodist minister can head a bank why can’t a telecoms engineer build a new sewer?

To be fair to Ms Garfield, most of her 11 years at BT have been spent in just the kinds of places Severn Trent needs her to be seen in. Latterly she has been photographed wearing a hard hat, up a telegraph pole. Look out for the new shots of her knee-deep in something down a main drain.

The fact is Ms Garfield has spent time on BT’s big two things: infrastructure and customer services. Both have improved under her tenure.

As Gavin Patterson, who beat her to succeed Lord Livingston as BT’s chief executive, said: “Liv has made an enormous contribution to BT over the past 12 years and she’ll be greatly missed. With her leadership we have taken the company’s commercial fibre rollout from conception to delivery. That is one of the fastest fibre deployments in the world.”

Andrew Duff, her new chairman at Severn Trent, said: “Liv brings experience of managing customer service delivery and complex organisations in a regulated environment. We are all looking forward to working with Liv and warmly welcome her to Severn Trent. It is a testimony to the quality of this company that we have been able to attract someone of Liv’s capabilities.”

Some analysts questioned whether Ms Garfield might yet have the boardroom skills to fight regulators or even potential bidders. But those who know her say she is particularly hands-on in management and regularly gets her way when changing organisations from the inside.

Ms Garfield will be paid a basic salary of £650,000 a year, but with pension contributions and short and long-term bonuses that could rise to £2.4m if she hits all her performance targets.

Severn Trent will also make up for cash bonuses she will lose from BT through its own long-term incentive plan over the next three years.

Ms Garfield replaces Tony Wray, who announced his intention to step down from Severn Trent seven months ago, after more than six years in the role.

Her move from one utility to another comes as water companies are facing increasing pressure from the regulator to keep customer bill increases at a minimum while continuing mutibillion-pound investment in their infrastructure.

Ms Garfield, who read German and French at Cambridge, began her career with a year at the British Consulate in Brussels. She then worked at Accenture for six years, before joining BT in 2002. She is a non-executive director of Tesco.

She said: “It’s a huge wrench to leave Openreach but I feel now is the right time to take on a new challenge. I am really looking forward to joining Severn Trent. It is a leader in an industry going through significant change and has, at its heart, a commitment to serving customers well.”

Ms Garfield, who was born in Yorkshire and is a keen Everton fan, lives in London. It is not yet clear whether she will move closer to Severn Trent’s headquarters in Coventry.

She will join Imperial Tobacco’s Alison Cooper, easyJet’s Carolyn McCall and Royal Mail’s Moya Greene as female bosses of FTSE 100 companies. Burberry’s Angela Ahrends plans to leave the luxury group by the middle of 2014.