BT to offload £104m French operations to Computercenter

BT to offload £104m French domestic operations to Computercenter

25 March 2020 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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BT is talking about selling its domestic operations in France to Computercenter, a £5.1 billion UK-based company.

This comes only days after BT also said it was planning to sell its domestic operations in 16 Latin American countries to a private equity investor, CIH Telecommunications Americas, an affiliate of CIH Technology Holdings.

Bas Burger (pictured), CEO of BT Global – formerly BT Global Services – said: “With this agreement we are close to reaching another milestone in the execution of our strategy to make BT Global a more agile business focused on the growing requirements of our multinational customers.”

BT said that the French operations generated total revenue of about £104 million in the financial year ending last March – making this business slightly smaller than the Latin American operation, whose size was put at £110 million. BT has not disclosed the profitability of either unit, or said how much it expects to receive.

BT hopes both transactions will be completed by the end of 2020.

Burger said of the Computercenter deal: “I believe this agreement will prove a key step forward for our customers, for our people and for BT. It also offers a positive future for our domestic customers and the people who support them.”

BT noted that the transaction is subject to consultations with works councils over a minimum period of two months. This process will adhere to any additional French government guidance issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It will then be subject to regulatory approval.

Computercenter CEO Mike Norris said: “This planned acquisition represents a small increase in our current revenues in France, which totalled €644.7 million in 2019.”

BT said the planned transaction is part of its transformation of its global unit as it sharpens its focus on delivering next-generation networking, cloud and security services to multinational organisations.

BT said it would retain a strong presence in France serving multinational businesses and organisations, including access points to its global network and a cyber security operations centre.

The London-based company has been unravelling its overseas domestic operations for some time – including in Spain and Germany. The future of its Italian business is still uncertain, thanks to a scandal that meant it had to write off £530 million in 2017. 

The French operation was also hit by a little known scandal 10 years ago, when one of Burger’s predecessors, Hanif Lalani, a former BT group CFO, left suddenly. It later emerged that Lalani had been implicated in an insider trading deal.

Back in October 2007, BT bought two-thirds of a listed Paris company, Net2S, from its founder shareholders in a deal valuing the company at €68.5 million. In 2012 the Autorité des marchés financiers, the stock market regulator of France, fined Lalani €1.5 million and five members of his extended family a total of €4.6 million for insider trading: his relatives had bought Net2S shares in anticipation of BT’s bid.

Capacity emailed Lalani for a comment 15 months ago but never received a reply.

Computercenter’s Norris added about today’s announcement: “The current coronavirus pandemic shows the importance of secure and reliable networks to our customers and this deal would significantly strengthen our existing French business in this growth area. It would bring our customer offering in France closer to the broader portfolio in our larger European markets, providing a strong foundation for our continued long-term growth.”