BT bolsters defence against potential bid from tycoon Drahi

BT Group has moved to strengthen its defences against a prospective takeover bid from a French billionaire by hiring the advisory firm which employs George Osborne, the former chancellor.

Sky News has learnt that Robey Warshaw, which Mr Osborne joined earlier this year, was formally appointed by BT in recent weeks to work alongside Goldman Sachs.

The timing of the move was significant, coming shortly before a December 10th threshold that will release Altice, the telecoms investor controlled by Patrick Drahi, from a binding commitment not to launch a takeover bid for BT.

City sources say that BT’s board is engaged in a range of scenario planning exercises including Altice lodging a formal takeover offer for the company or demanding that it spins off either its consumer division – which includes EE, the mobile network – or Openreach, its broadband infrastructure arm.

Mr Drahi’s £2bn investment in BT shares in June secured the tycoon a 12% stake in the company, which was immediately followed by a statement that it did not intend to make a takeover offer.


“Altice UK has made this significant investment in BT as it believes that it has a compelling opportunity to deliver one of the UK government’s most important policies, namely the substantial expansion of access to a full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband network throughout the UK,” it said at the time.

“Altice believes that the UK provides a sound environment for substantial long-term investment. This is supported by the current regulatory framework which offers BT the appropriate incentives to make the necessary investments.”

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Such ‘no-bid’ statements are binding under UK listing rules for six months, meaning Altice will be free to lodge a bid when the six-month period expires.

That possibility has attracted interest from ministers, who would be loathe to endorse any corporate battle which threatened to undermine BT’s critical role in the rollout of fast broadband across Britain.

The government’s interest in the future of BT means a hostile bid for the company is extremely unlikely, and there is no indication that Mr Drahi is planning a significant move on anything other than a friendly basis.

BT’s board is in the midst of a significant transition, with the former ITV, Royal Mail and Football Association chief executive Adam Crozier due to become the telecoms giant’s chairman on December 1.

The man he is replacing, Jan du Plessis, was effectively obliged to stand down by an ultimatum from the chief executive, Philip Jansen, that he would resign unless the chairmanship changed hands.

Robey Warshaw’s recruitment as joint adviser to BT’s board underlines the heightened expectation of significant corporate activity at the FTSE-100 group.

“It’s sensible contingency planning,” one observer said on Tuesday.

Founded by two veteran City bankers – Sir Simon Robey and Simon Warshaw – the firm has become involved in some of the UK’s biggest takeover situations during the last decade, including Pfizer’s aborted bid for AstraZeneca and Comcast’s acquisition of Sky, the parent company of Sky News.

It has also been a longstanding advisor to Vodafone.

In February, Robey Warshaw announced that Mr Osborne was joining it as a partner, a move which signalled the end of some of the other roles the former chancellor had held since leaving politics.

BT is also working with Lazard, the investment bank, on a potential sale or partnership involving its sports broadcasting arm.

DAZN, the streaming service owned by the billionaire Len Blavatnik, is widely regarded as the frontrunner, but a deal is regarded as unlikely in time for BT’s second-quarter results announcement on November 4.

A person close to BT’s board said it was nevertheless expected to announce a number of other corporate initiatives on that date – partly in recognition of Altice’s presence as a potential predator just over five weeks later.

BT’s board has flirted with appointing Robey Warshaw in the past, most recently in the summer of 2020, when the company’s shares were languishing at around 110p, giving it a market value of £10.1bn.

On Tuesday, its shares were trading at around 136p, making it worth £13.4bn.

BT and Robey Warshaw declined to comment.