In The Spotlight: The BT boss for whom strikes are just a childhood memory

Ian Livingston, BT
  • @davidprosserind

The timing of the publication of BT's annual report could not have been more unfortunate for Ian Livingston. Just as thousands of BT staff were asked by their union to vote on a strike over the company's latest pay offer, their chief executive was revealed to have earned a £1.2m bonus last year.

If a full-blown dispute does develop, it will mark a rare mis-step for BT's boss, who is renowned as a child prodigy who went on to a stellar career.

Now aged 45, the last time BT staff went on strike, 25 years ago, Mr Livingston had only just finished college – completing his economics degree at Manchester University before his 20th birthday. His father, a GP in Glasgow's east end for 40 years, had hoped his son would follow him into medicine. But while still at school, Mr Livingston won a fantasy share investment competition organised by Royal Bank of Scotland – turning a notional £10,000 into £30,000 in just six months – and his head was turned.

On leaving university, Mr Livingston trained at Arthur Andersen, where he achieved another first. On secondment to a fledgling media venture, he became chief accountant of the newly launched Independent newspaper.

Moving on, Mr Livingston would work for 3i and Bank of America before Lord Kalms asked him to join the electricals retailer Dixons. By 1997 he was the youngest ever finance director of a FTSE 100 company. As the bubble inflated, he was one of the founders of Dixons' Freeserve venture, the pioneering internet service provider. It was spun off and floated before France Telecom paid £1.65bn to buy the business just before the bubble burst.

Mr Livingston joined BT as finance director in 2002 and stepped up to the chief executive role six years later. He has just one other professional duty: a non-executive directorship at Celtic, the club he has supported since boyhood.