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Sir Michael Rake, international chairman of accounting firm KPMG, has had much to celebrate this week.

On Monday, he was anointed chairman designate of BT. On Wednesday he receives a knighthood from the Queen at Buckingham Palace for services to accounting.

Sir Michael, 59, has some big shoes to fill at BT. Sir Christopher Bland, the current chairman, will step down in September.

Together with Ben Verwaayen, BT chief executive, Sir Christopher led efforts to transform BT from virtual financial basket case, with a declining traditional fixed line phone business, to a telecommunications company that has based growth on increasing broadband provision and supplying multinationals with voice and data networks.

Sir Michael says he is “very confident” he can work with the “very direct” Mr Verwaayen, and stresses he will be a non-executive chairman.

“He will get to know I am not a micromanager ... I am going to be hopefully supportive and challenging,” he adds.

Sir Michael, paying tribute to the BT turnround led by Sir Christopher and Mr Verwaayen, says his core message for investors is that he will “do whatever I can to safeguard that inheritance”.

Some industry insiders have speculated that Mr Verwaayen could leave BT next year and Sir Michael accepts “he is not going to be there forever”.

But he adds: “I do not see any short-term issue with Ben whatsoever.”

He reassures any shareholders that may have concerns about his lack of experience of leading a public company.

Sir Michael has been at KPMG for 33 years. Although accounting firms are private partnerships, he stresses how, after the US financial scandals led by Enron, they have had to assume the status of “public interest entities”.

He highlights how in the UK they have published accounts so as to improve their transparency.

In both auditing and advisory capacities at KPMG, Sir Michael has worked closely with chairmen and chief executives of multinationals.

“Will I have some things to learn? Of course,” he says.

He admits he does not have a detailed knowledge of telecoms, but says he plans to spend time with BT technology experts.

Sir Michael is confident he can bring useful attributes to BT.

He highlights some similarities between KPMG and BT, such as their 100,000-plus workforces and global reach.

KPMG is a network of independent-minded country based partnerships and finding common ground there could prove useful for future board meetings at BT.

After the US financial scandals, KPMG was under pressure to improve the consistency of its services, which could also be relevant at BT.

But it is Sir Michael’s international knowledge of business, politicians and regulators that made him particularly attractive.

BT is a heavily regulated group both at home and abroad and Sir Michael’s contacts could prove invaluable as it seeks to expand its global services division that provides networks and related IT to multinationals.

He could also have some important cultural lessons for BT as it extends its global presence.

Sir Michael had a leading role in KPMG reaching a settlement with US authorities in 2005 that avoided the firm’s US partnership facing criminal charges over alleged tax fraud.

He says he wants to learn about BT culture and highlights potential issues as it moves into emerging markets.

“There are real commercial pressures we have to understand.”

Sir Michael admits he was surprised to be approached for the job of BT chairman, but says it fitted with his wish to spend more time with his family.

“It gives me the opportunity to rebalance my lifestyle,” he says.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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