Plenty to prove for BT's Bonfield

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The Independent Online
Nineteen ninety-seven could hardly have started out better for Peter Bonfield, the dapper, 53-year-old chief executive of British Telecom. BT was making good money. In the year to 31 March it reported pre-tax profits of pounds 3.2bn on sales of pounds 14.9bn, up 6 and 3 per cent respectively.

Across Europe BT was seen as the front-runner among privatised phone utilities preparing EU telecoms deregulation in 1998. Through its ownership of 20 per cent of MCI, BT lookedpositioned to build a business in the rich US phone market.

Then lightning struck. BT bid for the remaining 80 per cent of MCI but shareholders forced it to scale down the offer. This opened the door to a little-known telecoms company called WorldCom. It stole MCI from under BT's nose - paying $37bn (pounds 22bn) for it, the highest M&A price in history.

All is not lost. BT earned a cool $2.25bn profit on its $4.3bn stake in MCI. This is more than enough money to buy a substitute.

For now, however, Mr Bonfield is exposed. He will have to prove himself next year. Yet there is no clear standard for judging the performance of the heads of Britain's global companies against that of their counterparts overseas.