Liberty Global, the international cable giant, has announced a search for a new leader for Virgin Media, its British operation, to work alongside Tom Mockridge, its chief executive, as he is getting ready to step down.
Mockridge has run Virgin Media since Liberty Global took over in a takeover worth £15bn five years ago. He is expected to step down from his £3m-a-year chief executive post next year.
Liberty Global is controlled by John Malone, the billionaire “Cable Cowboy” who is based in Colorado. It has appointed Spencer Stuart, the headhunter, to look for a new chief operating officer with a view to a promotion to the top job in 2019. A source who has the knowledge of the process called it as a “managed transition.”
The search is anticipated to cover external and internal candidates. Dana Strong, its former chief operating officer, was the heir apparent to Mockridge within Virgin Media until she was recruited by Comcast, the US cable giant and Sky suitor, earlier this year.
Mockridge was born in New Zealand and a former Murdoch executive. He will turn 64 next year. He led Sky Italia until he was driven into the phone-hacking crisis at News International in 2011. He has overseen both heavy investment and deep cost-cutting at Virgin Media.
Under the ownership of Liberty Global, the operator has repeatedly made hundreds of employees redundant and has turned to outsourcers.
It has also committed £3bn fund to Project Lightning, a major network investment that is set to expand cable coverage from half to two-thirds of the nation by 2020. Last year, Liberty Global was compelled to admit that the project had fallen behind its schedule after Virgin Media discovered evidence that progress reports had been manipulated.
Mockridge also initiated a successful campaign to force the Premier League to sell more of its live broadcasting rights, even though the additional packages of matches introduced during the triennial auction this year are still unsold.
The sole cable operator of the United Kingdom, created in the 2005 merger of Telewest and NTL, is the biggest business of Liberty Global and the cornerstone of the complex financial structure that makes use of cheap debt and accumulated losses to minimise tax bills and maximise the returns for the Wall Street backers of Malone.
A spokesperson for Liberty Global said that the company was not looking for a replacement for Mockridge.
He stated: “We are recruiting for a replacement for Dana Strong, Virgin Media’s former chief operating officer.”