Graham Wallace, 48, is leaving his pounds 320,000-a-year job as chief executive of Granada's restaurants and services division to take up the post, starting on 1 February. He will be paid a basic salary of pounds 375,000 a year, with long and short-term bonuses and share options still being discussed with Dick Brown, C&W's chief executive.
Announcing the appointment, C&W again denied that the timetable for the merger, which involves Bell Cablemedia, the UK operations of Videotron and Nynex CableComms, had slipped. Mr Wallace said: "I've observed fairly closely from where I've been sitting and it's dead on track. This is not an issue. It's still as we said last October. It's still set for the spring."
Asked whether there had been some internal unhappiness at the link-up, he said: "There will always be some internal unhappiness around."
Mr Wallace joined Granada in 1986, rising to finance director three years later. By 1990 he was running the television rental business, taking over to manage the largest of Granada's operations, the restaurants arm, in 1995.
One of Mr Wallace's first tasks will be to sort out snags involved with the complex job of merging the four organisations. Insiders in the cable companies have complained of a damaging cultural gulf, with the telephony- based Cable & Wireless often labelled as bureaucratic.
A senior cable source said yesterday: "Although he's not strong on the telecoms side that's a good sign for the industry. It sends the signal that it is not a typical telephony-based operation. He's also British and that's fantastic."
The appointment raises questions over the long-term role of Peter Howell- Davies, Mercury's chief executive. Last night Mr Howell-Davies confirmed he had been on the short-list for the C&W Communications job but welcomed Mr Wallace's appointment: "I'm personally disappointed at not getting the top job. I was a candidate and I'll continue to run Mercury and move the business forward."
The steering group overseeing the merger, which includes Mr Howell-Davies, Dan Summers, chairman of Bell Cablemedia, and John Killian, head of Nynex CableComms, will meet on Monday to assess progress. The next move is to speed up the search for the rest of the top executive team, with the aim of finalising the list by the end of the month. One hitch is that Stephen Pettit, the C&W director in overall charge of the steering group, is in hospital after a car crash last week.
Mr Wallace's move is the second top-level departure from Granada in a month. In December Duncan Lewis quit as head of the group's media division after a row with chief executive Charles Allen. However, Mr Wallace played down any suggestion that similar disagreements had led to his move. He is succeeded by Don Davenport, who runs Granada's roadside restaurant business.