Sir Ian Cheshire, the former boss of DIY retailer Kingfisher, is being lined up to take a senior post on the board of BT Group, Britain’s biggest telecoms company.
Sky News has learnt that Sir Ian is close to being named as a non-executive director of BT, which is in talks with the government about a multibillion pound investment programme to deliver full-fibre broadband across the country.
A source close to one leading boardroom headhunter said they understood that Sir Ian’s appointment could be announced as soon as this week.
He is likely to be a candidate to replace Nick Rose as BT’s senior independent director when Mr Rose steps down from the company’s board in the coming months.
The arrival of Sir Ian will come during a period of transformation at BT under Philip Jansen, who became chief executive just over a year ago.
BT disclosed last week that Mr Jansen had become the first prominent corporate figure in the UK to contract the COVID-19 virus, although he is continuing to run the company while he is isolating himself at home.
Several of his colleagues and competitors have also been self-isolating after attending meetings with him during the last fortnight.
The telecoms giant is wrestling with the prospect of a hefty dividend cut to fund its forthcoming investment plans, although many of its leading shareholders are supportive of its plans to do so.
Hiring Sir Ian will add to its boardroom a figure with extensive experience of government – a key BT customer – and the retail industry.
He chaired Debenhams, the department store chain, for several years, and currently chairs Barclays’ UK retail bank.
Sir Ian is also the government’s lead independent director and sits on the board of the Cabinet Office.
His appointment will come during the latest phase of a shareholder consultation on boardroom pay at BT, which is proposing to cut Mr Jansen’s maximum remuneration package from £8.3m to £5.6m.
The new blueprint will entail scrapping BT’s long-term incentive plan (LTIP) – which could pay out shares worth £4.4m to Mr Jansen each year – in favour of a restricted stock scheme that would award him £2.2m in shares annually.
The 50% discount to the LTIP, which is designed to reflect the greater certainty of the awards being paid out, is thought to be acceptable to most of BT’s large investors following earlier discussions.
The BT chief will also see his pension allowance reduced next year from 15% of his £1.1m salary to 10%, bringing him in line with the average BT employee.
In addition to the restricted share plan, BT has decided to reduce Mr Jansen’s maximum annual bonus from 240% of his salary to 200%.
Sky News revealed this month that BT’s top executives will also see 20% of their annual bonuses linked to metrics including progress towards a publicly stated target of reducing carbon emissions by 87% by 2030, and the number of BT customers connected to new 5G networks.
BT’s shares have performed poorly over the last year, reflecting concerns about its dividend and the scale of investment that will be required to deliver the government’s commitment to universal fast broadband by 2025.
On Friday, they closed at 112.3p, giving the company a market value of just £11.1bn.
BT declined to comment on Sunday.