Duffy moved sideways as Comcast star takes over at NTL

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NTL surprised the City yesterday by saying its chief executive Simon Duffy was standing down just as the cable company is in the middle of a bidding battle for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile and is also completing a separate deal to buy its rival Telewest.

The timing of the announcement was unexpected because Mr Duffy was the chief architect behind the £817m bid by NTL, Britain's largest cable company, for Virgin Mobile a few weeks ago.

Mr Duffy will remain with NTL in the newly created post of executive vice-president, in charge of the company's broad strategy and mergers and acquisitions opportunities. He will be replaced as chief executive next month by Stephen Burch, a senior executive at America's largest cable company, Comcast.

NTL said it had hired Mr Burch because of his wide experience in integrating merged companies, including bedding down Comcast's acquisition of the broadband business of AT&T. Mr Burch has been the president of Comcast's Atlantic division for the past five years.

Mr Duffy, a former finance director of EMI and chief operating officer at Orange, took the top job at NTL in August 2003, replacing the company's flamboyant American co-founder, Barclay Knapp.

Mr Duffy, who is British, led a turnaround at the company, which is listed on New York's Nasdaq. He helped handle NTL's emergence from bankruptcy in 2003 and pushed through a restructuring in 2004 which included slashing thousands of jobs and closing call centres. More recently, he has embarked on a plan to expand NTL so that it can compete with rival cable and satellite broadcasters such as BSkyB and telephone companies such as BT.

In October NTL announced the $6bn (£3.4bn) acquisition of its smaller rival Telewest in an attempt to create a dominant cable player to compete with Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB. On 5 December NTL made a tentative offer of £832m for Virgin Mobile, the mobile network 72 per cent owned by Sir Richard.

The deal, thought to have been hammered out between Mr Duffy and Sir Richard in Central Park this year, has been rejected by Virgin Mobile's independent directors as too low. NTL could come back with a higher offer or may try to persuade Sir Richard to accept less for his stake.

NTL is keen to buy Virgin's mobile business in part to get hold of one of the most valuable consumer brands, but also because it is part of Mr Duffy's "quadruple play" plan. He is keen to make NTL a one-stop shop for people wanting cable television, broadband internet access, a fixed-line telephone line and mobile service.

Under the board reshuffle, Mr Duffy will continue to have responsibility for devising NTL's strategy in the UK's rapidly consolidating telecommunications and technology market. He will retain the same financial package he was on as chief executive.

Mr Burch, an American, will move to NTL's headquarters in Hook, Hampshire. His salary and benefits will be disclosed in a regulatory filing in the next few days. He will take on the title of president and chief executive.

James Mooney remains chairman of NTL. He said: "Simon has helped lay the foundation that has enabled NTL to reach the next phase of its evolution. Against that backdrop, and recognising the company's enhanced scale and presence now requires a greater focus on external management, he will concentrate on that area. We will look to him to lead NTL through our merger with Telewest."