James Moore: Bt's Ian Livingston times exit well while the going is good

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The Independent Online

Outlook One of the key skills for a chief executive is getting the timing of your departure right. Ideally, you want to ensure a successor has six months in the job with a couple of decent trading statements before any serious problems emerge.

Will we be able to count BT's Ian Livingston alongside, say, Tesco's ex boss Sir Terry Leahy or Dame Marjorie Scardino, latterly of Pearson, both masters of this most delicate of arts?

Maybe not. Mr Livingston appears to be leaving BT in a decent shape as he prepares to don ermine, the pay-off for his forthcoming role as David Cameron's trade minister, which comes with lots of first class travel but no salary.

He's turned around a lumbering former national monopoly and there was more evidence of that in the last set of results. BT's fortunes are on the up, and the share price has boomed on his watch.

But BT isn't out of the woods. Its pension scheme remains in a deep hole, it has picked a fight with BSkyB and Rupert Murdoch, spending big on sports rights. Plenty of others have got burnt after trying that one.

Mr Cameron will be hoping these, or other issues, don't come back to bite BT, because his opponents won't be shy about blaming Mr Livingston. Memories in Westminster are rather longer than they are in the City and, while Lord Green may have acquitted himself with credit in the role, his disappearance when HSBC got fined nearly $2bn by the US authorities over a money-laundering scandal speaks volumes.