C&W cable supremo set to be appointed

Cable & Wireless Communications, Britain's largest cable company, is on the verge of appointing a new chief executive, with 6 January the favoured date for the announcement.

A steering committee, set up by the four founding companies that make up C&W Communications, is also poised to report on the progress it has made toward merging Mercury, Bell Cablemedia, Nynex CableComms and Videotron to form the industry's new leader.

A spokesperson for Bell Cablemedia said: "The process is fairly well advanced, but we cannot comment at this time."

According to industry sources, the most likely candidate for chief executive is an American, and not necessarily from the cable industry. It is believed that not all of the three current chief executives of the main founding companies - Bell Cablemedia's Dan Somers, Mercury's Peter Howell-Davies and Nynex's John Killian - have made it onto the latest shortlist. That might come as a blow to executives at Mercury, who had hoped to see Mr Howell-Davies take on the top job at the newly created company.

"I believe C&W should think about giving the job to someone with experience of the cable business in the UK," said one senior manager at a C&W Communications partner company. "Peter would seem to many of us to be an obvious choice."

Mr Howell-Davies has been seen at Mercury as a stabilising influence after the turbulent nine months under Duncan Lewis, his predecessor.

Meanwhile, sources close to Mr Lewis downplayed suggestions that he might return to C&W, although it is believed he has held discussions about the chief executive job. Mr Lewis, who lasted just six months at his last job, as chief executive of Granada's media operations, is thought more likely to seek a position at a mid-ranking company that does not have a controlling shareholder.

Dick Brown, the US-trained chief executive of Cable & Wireless, Mercury's parent company, said earlier this month that the company would look at both internal and external candidates. If the selection committee opts for an outsider, it will be seen as similar to moves at other large "utility- style" companies to bring in a fresh perspective to balance an otherwise conservative management style. BT's decision to appoint Sir Peter Bonfield, formerly chief executive of ICL, the information technology company, is an example.

A senior cable source at one of the C&W companies said yesterday: "We definitely need someone able to take risks and brave decisions. The cable industry has for too long been run by people with engineering and financial backgrounds. What we really need now is marketing ability and strategic thinking."

The cable industry is poised for further rapid consolidation in 1997, and has made progress toward expanding its involvement in the broadcasting side of the business.

The moves are seen as a way of countering the dominant position enjoyed by BSkyB, Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcaster, which supplies the cable industry with key sport and film and general entertainment channels.

The creation of a new industry leader has obliged Telewest to accelerate its own consolidation plans.