The Business On... Olivia Garfield, Chief executive, BT Openreach
Wednesday 16 March 2011
Do I know her?
You soon will – she's going to be one of the next big stars of British business. Ms Garfield was promoted to chief executive of BT's Openreach division yesterday at the tender age of 35. Not before time mind you – she's been tipped for the top for ages.
Is this a big job?
Yes. With annual sales of £5bn and 19,000 engineers, Openreach would be at least a FTSE 250 company were it to be independent. It's the bit of BT responsible for the "final mile", the connection between the network and households and businesses. One vital task for Ms Garfield will be to supervise the roll-out of super-fast fibre broadband to two-thirds of Britain.
So what do we know about her?
She read languages at Cambridge and then then joined management consultancy Accenture. She moved to BT in 2003 and has climbed the ranks very speedily, though she's also found the time to have two children. Her friends call her Liv.
And she's a woman?
Very well spotted. Her gender is worth noting only because of the well-documented shortage of women at the top levels of British business. This isn't a board-ranking job, but it clearly isn't going to be long before Ms Garfield adds her name to the very short list of female executive directors of large British companies.
So how has she done it?
Talent and enthusiasm (colleagues describe her as voluble). She caught the eye of management after turning around the performance of the first BT business unit she joined and has impressed with her strategic vision. Cranfield Business School named her as one of its "100 Business Women to Watch" last year and Pepsi had her down as one of its "Business Women of the Future" as early as 2008.
Any danger of her burning out?
There's no reason to think so, but the Openreach job comes with a number of challenges that would tax anyone. It gives Ms Garfield a public exposure she hasn't yet had to deal with and the broadband project is particularly high-profile – she'll get it in the neck from everyone from ministers down should she fail to deliver.
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