O2, Virgin Media JV execs named
April 7, 2021
By Colin Mann
Although the planned merger combining Virgin Media and O2 is still subject to approval by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK, Liberty Global and Telefónica have announced their intention to appoint Lutz Schüler as Chief Executive Officer and Patricia Cobian as Chief Financial Officer of the proposed 50-50 joint venture.
Schüler joined Virgin Media in 2018 as Chief Operating Officer and has been CEO at Virgin Media since June 2019. Prior to that, Schüler spent more than seven years as CEO of Unitymedia GmbH, Liberty Global’s highly successful German operation, which was sold to Vodafone in 2018. During his tenure at Virgin Media he has transformed business performance with the acceleration of 1 Gig broadband, the rollout of new entertainment and smart WiFi services and the market’s first fixed-mobile bundles. Schüler is a 27-year veteran of the telecoms industry, beginning his career at T-Mobile Deutschland in 1994 and later serving in various senior management roles, including Chief Operating Officer, with Telefónica’s O2 German subsidiary from 1998 to 2010.
Cobian is currently Chief Financial Officer for O2, a position she has held since 2016. During a 15-year career with Telefónica she has held a number of senior management positions. Before taking on her current role, Cobian was Director for Business Development in Telefónica Europe, where she led strategy, marketing innovation and played a key role in a number of partnerships, spectrum auctions, infrastructure sharing deals and key acquisitions and divestitures in the region. She also led the post-merger integration planning of Telefónica Deutschland with ePlus. Before joining Telefónica, Cobian was a consultant with the TMT and Corporate Finance practices of McKinsey & Company.
“We are about to embark on an exciting new chapter for Virgin Media and O2, and Lutz and Patricia are the right leaders to deliver on our ambition to create the UK’s national connectivity champion,” stated Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, and José Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, CEO of Telefónica. “Together they will build a strong, diverse and dynamic team that will bring more choice, more value and world-class innovation to over 46 million fixed and mobile customers and the broader consumer and enterprise market.”
“Lutz is a unique talent and a perfect fit for the new combined company. He has extensive experience in fixed and mobile and a fantastic track record at both Liberty and Telefónica driving transformation and growth. Together, Virgin Media and O2 will need to quickly capitalise on strategic opportunities in network expansion, digitalisation, convergence, 5G and video – all areas where Lutz has a strong background and a clear vision. We couldn’t have a better leader steering us through these critical and exciting times,” they added.
“I’m both humbled and proud to be appointed CEO of this powerful combination between Virgin Media and O2, and I’m excited that we are getting closer to realizing our vision of creating a true connectivity champion in the UK,” commented Schüler. “I have enormous respect for Mark and appreciate the partnership we’ve developed as we prepare both businesses to come together as one and I’m very enthusiastic about working with Patricia as CFO. She is an extremely talented leader and together we will build a strong, high performing team.”
“I would like to place on record my appreciation for the exceptional leadership of Mark Evans, the current CEO of O2,” said Alvarez-Pallete Lopez. “Since his appointment in 2016, the business has established itself as the UK’s number one network by scale and customer satisfaction and delivered five consecutive years of profit growth. Valuation grew by £3 billion, making this deal possible. He has also played an instrumental role for the Telefónica Group and our strategy. Mark will remain in his post until completion.”
“I am proud to have served Telefónica, O2, its employees and customers, especially as CEO over the last five years, and have enjoyed the journey immensely,” remarked Evans. “It has been both a personal and professional honour to have established O2 as the UK’s number one mobile network and most compelling brand. I’m confident the joint venture I helped bring to the table will come to fruition and go on to establish itself as the national connectivity champion the UK deserves. In Liberty Global, Telefónica has found a first-class partner, and together their brand portfolio and their remarkable employees have an exciting future ahead.”
Liberty Global and Telefónica announced the joint venture in May 2020, bringing together multiplay operator Virgin Media, and mobile telco O2. The pair say the combination will create a stronger fixed and mobile competitor in the UK market, supporting the expansion of Virgin Media’s giga-ready network and O2’s 5G mobile deployment for the benefit of consumers, businesses and the public sector.
The joint venture is expected to deliver substantial synergies valued of more than £6 billion on a net present value basis after integration costs and will create a nationwide integrated communications provider with £11 billion of revenue.