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Jun 28, 2019

BCE's George Cope to retire after delivering 193% return to shareholders

George Cope sees bright future for BCE as he retires after 12 years at helm

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BCE Inc. named Mirko Bibic to take over as chief executive officer of Canada’s largest telecommunications company by market value when George Cope retires in January.

“The time is right for Mirko to take our company to the next level,” Cope said Friday in a statement. “He has been front and centre in the successful execution of Bell’s broadband leadership strategy from its beginning.”

Cope, 57, who has been with BCE for 14 years in total, will retire on Jan. 5.

Bibic, 51, is currently chief operating officer of Montreal-based BCE. He’s led a range of consumer and residential initiatives including the launch of Bell Wireless Home Internet to small towns and rural communities; accelerating Bell prepaid wireless; Bell Media’s launch of the new Crave streaming service; and strategic planning for Bell’s 5G future.

Under Cope’s leadership, BCE expanded its wireless operations and executed investments and acquisitions valued at more than $15 billion ($11.5 billion), including brands such as Bell Aliant, Virgin Mobile Canada, Manitoba Telecom Services and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, owner of the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors.

The shares of the telecom giant dropped 0.2 per cent to $59.60 at 10:27 a.m. in Toronto. BCE has returned 193 per cent to shareholders, including dividends, since Cope became president and CEO on July 2, 2008, pushing its market value to $53.6 billion. That compares with 271 per cent for competitor Telus Corp., 169 per cent for Rogers Communications Inc., and 61 per cent for the S&P/TSX Composite Index.

As of the first quarter, the company has posted 54 consecutive quarters of year-over-year adjusted Ebitda growth, according to the statement.

The move comes as a surprise to some analysts. “Some may have assumed that Mr. Bibic might replace Mr. Cope during 2020 or perhaps the start of 2021, but our view is that the majority of people thought that Mr. Cope would lead the company into the 5G era over the next two to three years,” National Bank of Canada analyst Adam Shine said in a note Friday.

It’s unlikely that Bibic will change much of the focus and strategy of BCE, Shine added.

The leadership change comes as Justin Trudeau’s government continues its security review of 5G, weighing whether to ban Huawei Technology Co. from the the next-generation network. BCE’s Bell Canada and Telus are the most exposed Canadian telecos if Trudeau decides to freeze out Huawei. BCE will follow government rules before including any equipment from the Chinese titan, Cope told BNN Bloomberg TV.

The executive added that live content for sports will be the future of the sporting program. “Video consumption is absolutely exploding,” he said, adding the company is well positioned to take it forward.

--With assistance from Simran Jagdev, Natalie Wong and Aoyon Ashraf.

BNN Bloomberg is a division of Bell Media, which is owned by BCE.