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BT announced Monday that Sir Michael Rake, the current chairman of KPMG International, will succeed Sir Christopher Bland as chairman of the UK’s leading telecoms group.

Sir Christopher and Ben Verwaayen, BT chief executive, have transformed the group from a company saddled with mountain of debt into one of the better performers in the European telecoms sector.

Their strategy has been rooted in BT rapidly expanding the supply of broadband to customers, and developing the ability to serve the voice and data needs of multinational companies.

Sir Michael said: “I am thrilled to be joining a company which has achieved so much in recent years and has such ambition for the future. Sir Christopher Bland has done a magnificent job setting BT on a secure financial footing and developing a strategy for the future. Ben Verwaayen leads an outstanding team. I look forward to working closely with him, the board and my new colleagues.”

Welcoming the appointment, Sir Christopher said: “Michael has demonstrated outstanding leadership of a major global organisation during a time of considerable turbulence and change. I have every confidence that he will bring those same qualities of leadership to BT.”

BT’s third-quarter results, published earlier this month, also confirmed its improving performance by showing that it had halted a four-year decline in the number of customers taking its traditional fixed-line phone services.

Mr Verwaayen underlined BT’s confidence about its prospects by saying it would increase its revenue and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in 2007-08 as well as 2006-07.

It was BT’s fourth successive quarter of year-on-year earnings growth and suggested that the group is weathering a fierce broadband price war led by Carphone Warehouse, the mobile retailer turned fixed-line phone company.

BT’s share of new customers taking broadband over copper landlines, as opposed to cable, increased to 34 per cent in the three months to December 31, compared with 25 per cent in the previous quarter.

Sir Christopher, who became BT chairman in May 2001, led efforts to cut the group’s £30bn debt, which had been threatening to undermine the company.

Like many of its peers, BT spent huge sums buying mobile companies and licences during the late 1990s.

Some industry insiders expect Mr Verwaayen to leave BT next year, and he said in an interview with the FT last month that he serves at the “pleasure of the board”.

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