Telecom's former general counsel anointed as its new chair

Updated 1.50pm: Telecom Chair Wayne Boyd defends his proposed successor

Mark Verbiest, Telecom’s general counsel between 2000 and 2008, will become Telecom Retail’s chair if shareholders vote in favour of the telco's demerger.

Telecom has announced changes to its board following the proposed demerger – expected to be completed before the end of year. Telecom is required to structurally separate and form two companies, Telecom Retail and Chorus 2, in order to participate in the government's Ultra Fast Broadband network.

In addition to Verbiest, who is currently chairman of Transpower and a director of AMP and Freightways, the telco is also proposing the following new directors be appointed:

Charles Stitch – retired from international management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company.

Justine Smyth – deputy chair of NZ Post, chair of New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, board member of Financial Markets Authority. Owner of Lingerie Brands Ltd.

Maury Leyland – director at Transpower, has been a senior executive at Fonterra since 2005.

Paul Berriman – chief technology officer of PCCW, Hong Kong’s largest telco, since May 2007.

From the date of the demerger the current chair Wayne Boyd and director Ron Spithill will step down from Telecom’s board, while Murray Horn and Kevin Roberts will stand for re-election at the next Annual General Meeting.

Paul Reynolds will remain on the board.

The proposed Chorus 2 board, to be chaired by Sue Sheldon, was announced by Telecom last month.

In addition to announcing the proposed Telecom Retail board, the telco published shareholder information about the proposed demerger today.

The proposal will be put to vote at Telecom's annual meeting on October 26. If approved, and providing other conditions are met, Telecom expects to structurally separate by November 30.

Verbiest in the Gattung era

In the press statement today Boyd says Verbiest is “the right man to lead the stewardship of the interests of shareholders as Telecom addresses the opportunities and challenges after a demerger.”

According to Bird on a Wire, former Telecom CEO Theresa Gattung’s memoir about her time at the head of the telco, Verbiest and Boyd have known each other for some time.

“I was with a colleague early in 2004 when they were called by Wayne Boyd about matters to do with the Auckland International Airport, of which he was chair,” she writes. “I’d never met Wayne, so I checked with Mark Verbiest, Telecom’s group general counsel, who knew him and regarded him highly. At that stage he wasn’t on the list of names the recruiter had prepared for the board so I asked that he be added to the list. He made the shortlist, became a director and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Verbiest, a long-serving member of Gattung’s senior management team, was the one to tell Gattung about the leaked cabinet paper that signalled local loop unbundling and operational separation. Gattung writes.

“Mark was always a pleasure to work with – calm, considered, a lawyer with sound commercial judgement. On this day, though, he was deeply concerned. He said that we had a copy of a paper from David Cunliffe to Helen Clark asking permission to take through either Cabinet or Cabinet policy committee a series of proposals with relation to telecommunications regulation, which from our perspective was really bad.”

Later that day Verbiest and Gattung faced the Telecom board, and that evening, Gattung reports she collapsed from stress in her office and Verbiest caught her before she hit the floor.

UPDATED 1.50pm

In a media conference call today, Computerworld asked Boyd if Verbiest's appointment would be viewed by customers and industry stakeholders as a return to Telecom's past:

"I don’t think there should be any concern at all," Boyd replied. "Mark has been away from Telecom for more than three years, he’s carved out a very impressive portfolio of directorships.

"We prepared these boards on the basis of a capability wheel and Mark has the capability to be in the final select group and then of our select group we believe he’s the right person to chair the company going forward."

Boyd says that Verbiest will be reconsidering his current directorship portfolio if shareholders vote for demerger and he is appointed to chair of Telecom.

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