TalkTalk to lose its chief executive as breakup looms

TalkTalk chief executive Tristia Harrison

Tristia Harrison is to step down as the chief executive of Salford Quays headquartered telecommunications company TalkTalk as the business moves towards a demerger and sale of its business division. reported yesterday how 50 jobs are at risk at the Soapworks headquarters as the company faces a refinancing of its £1.1billion debt pile.

The looming debt challenge has forced the hand of founder and executive chairman Sir Charles Dunstone and plans are advanced to break the business up after he took TalkTalk private with the support of specialist debt provider Tosca.

Harrison has been at the helm of the business since 2017, and will lead a “transition board” to manage the break up of the consumer, business and wholesale divisions, and possible sale.

The most likely buyer for the business division is Daisy Communications, founded and still run by entrepreneur Matthew Riley.

But Harrison’s departure also casts doubt on TalkTalk’s commitment to community engagement programmes in the North West, which she has personally led. 

TalkTalk operates programmes to support women entering the technology sector, and partners with local food banks and other community interest projects to help disadvantaged families and children in the area.

She is also non-executive director at Next Plc, the Trustee Chair of homelessness charity Crisis, and an Honorary Trustee for the national charity Ambitious about Autism.

She’s also a founding member of the industry campaign against online harm known as Internet Matters.

TalkTalk have confirmed the changes of leadership and acknowledged the link to the demerger of its main operating businesses into three standalone companies.

In a statement this morning, following stories in and other media, it said: “The separation will lead to the creation of three independent companies: the B2B Wholesale Platform, the leading and fastest growing provider of wholesale telecom services in the UK; TalkTalk Consumer – home to 2.4 million residential broadband customers and the only scale value player in the residential broadband market; and TalkTalk Business Direct, which serves the connectivity needs of approximately 90,000 small businesses.

“The leadership of each will be overseen by Tristia Harrison, TalkTalk Group CEO (since 2017), who will chair a newly established Oversight Board through to the point of legal separation on March 1, 2024. From March, Tristia will move to be a non-executive director of the B2B Wholesale Platform.”

The company confirmed that Tom O’Hagan, founder of Virtual1 and current manging director of TalkTalk Business Wholesale, will be chief executive of the Wholesale Platform, while Adam Dunlop, the former managing director of iD Mobile and current manging director of TalkTalk Consumer and Supply & Partnerships, will be chief executive of TalkTalk Consumer. Ruth Kennedy continues as managing director of TalkTalk Business Direct.

A statement today (27 September) said the demerger will “allow each company to focus on meeting the needs of their distinctive customer bases, eliminate operational complexity, and support balance sheet refinancing and investment on a standalone basis,” but didn’t refer to the disposal of any specific division.

The new companies will become operationally separate from November 1, and legally separate from March 1, 2024.

All three businesses will be headquartered in Salford.

The statement acknowledged that the changes will lead to a limited number of redundancies, primarily from central corporate functions.

Harrison was part of the management team who separated the business from Carphone Warehouse in 2010 and was appointed chief executive in 2017, and has been a close confidant of founder Sir Charles Dunstone.

She was central to the creation of TalkTalk as a challenger brand in consumer broadband and telecoms, with 4m residential customers.

In 2019 she oversaw the successful move of TalkTalk’s HQ to Soapworks at Salford Quays, and the delisting of the business, backed by existing shareholders, in 2021.

She also led the growth and then sale of FibreNation to Cityfibre in 2021 which included a landmark wholesale agreement, and the acquisition in 2022 of Virtual1, which has been integrated with TalkTalk’s existing wholesale business to form the B2B wholesale platform.

She has also driven the group’s supply diversification strategy, partnering with a number of lower cost wholesale alternative networks.

She is now overseeing the demerger plan that she has devised over the past 12 months, and will chair the newly established Oversight Board to bring additional governance to the separation process.