Outlook: Ionica rings the changes

Ionica may not be signing up telephone customers at quite the rate promised when it came to market last July (another Warburgs introduction), but boy is it ringing the changes among the management. Yesterday three directors, including the finance director, parted company with the wireless telephone operator while its founder and chief executive Nigel Playford was elevated into a role which should occupy him all of one day a week.

Mr Playford's "visionary skills" are apparently better deployed seeking out international opportunities than rolling out its UK network which is where Ionica has the biggest challenge.

The harsh truth is that if it were not for his 6 per cent stake and the need to maintain employee morale, Mr Playford would probably have paid a heavier price yesterday for Ionica's disastrous stock market debut.

The appointment of an experienced telecoms hand in Michael Biden as chief executive bodes better and suggests that Ionica has at last twigged it is in business to offer a service, not play with its science set.

But the challenges remain daunting. Ionica has still to renegotiate its banking covenants, hope that Oftel does not mind it missing its roll-out obligations by a mile and then pray that the software upgrade, the source of its current travails, arrives on time and works. If it passes all those tests it will still be in hock to Nortel, which looks like providing the finance for the remainder of the network roll-out. Its biggest shareholders are locked in. But how long before Nortel makes them an offer they can't refuse?

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