After Ed Richards announced in October 2014 that he would step down as Ofcom Chief Executive at the end of the year, the hunt for his successor was on and in late December 2014, the Ofcom Board announced the appointment of Sharon White as Chief Executive.
Steve Unger, Ofcom’s Strategy head, is acting as interim chief executive until Ms White will joins Ofcom in late March 2015, at what will be a pivotal time for the regulator in the UK. Among the sensitive matters likely to be awaiting her attention are:
- the review of acquisitions by major players in the UK telecoms industry seeking to compete in the “quadplay” space (bundling landline, mobile, internet and pay-TV offerings), most notably of BT’s recent proposal to acquire EE for £12.5 bn;
- oversight of the auction process for Premier League broadcasting rights, at a time when the acquisition of sports rights is becoming increasingly contentious with ongoing disputes about access and a newly opened investigation into whether the Premier League’s sale of rights to broadcast live football matches has broken competition rules;
- the renewal of the Royal Charter and agreements that underpin the BBC’s existence following a period of heavy public criticism of the corporation’s governance.
Although her background is not in media and telecommunications, Ofcom points to Ms White’s training as an economist and 25 years’ experience in the public sector and government, with the regulator’s Chairman Dame Patricia Hodgson saying “Sharon brings with her an outstanding combination of intellect, political acumen and experience leading complex public organisations”. Most recently, she has been responsible for managing the UK’s public finances as the second permanent secretary at the Treasury, and the stakeholder management skills she has no doubt honed over rounds of spending cuts should stand her in good stead for the role mediating the regular battles between telecoms and media companies.