Lutz Schüler has been handed one of the biggest jobs in European telecoms after he was appointed as chief executive of the company formed by the £31bn merger of Virgin Media and O2.
The German, named Virgin Media’s chief executive in 2019, will take charge of the integration of the cable network with the UK’s largest mobile phone network if competition regulators allow the deal to proceed in May.
He fought off competition from Mark Evans, who took over as chief executive of Telefónica UK, O2’s owner, five years ago.
The appointment will be announced on Wednesday, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Patricia Cobain, chief financial officer of Telefónica UK, is to retain that role at the enlarged business. Mike Fries, chief executive of Liberty Global, was named as chair of the combined business for a two-year term last year.
Fries and José Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, chief executive of Telefonica, said in a joint statement: “We are about to embark on an exciting new chapter for Virgin Media and O2, and Lutz and Patricia are the right leaders to deliver on our ambition to create the UK’s national connectivity champion.”
Alvarez-Pallete said that Evans would leave the company at the time of completion and that he had been “instrumental” in developing Telefonica’s strategy and growing the value of O2 by £3bn since he took over in 2016.
Schüler, whose appointment was first reported by Sky News, was in a strong position to land the top job after holding senior positions at both Liberty Global and Telefónica in Germany over the past two decades and has run both fixed-line and mobile networks.
Liberty Global and Telefónica agreed to merge their businesses last year in a 50:50 joint venture designed to create a stronger competitor to BT in the UK market. The combination creates an integrated British broadband, mobile and pay-TV company as the telecoms market enters the full-fibre and 5G era.
It is also the latest in a string of deals that have driven the consolidation of the global telecoms market. Liberty Global has been one of the most active traders of assets in recent years, selling cable networks to Vodafone and buying mobile businesses in Switzerland and Belgium, while Telefónica has put most of its Latin American operations up for sale and sold its Spanish towers unit as it seeks to reduce debt.
The UK’s Competition & Markets Authority is investigating whether the tie-up between Virgin Media and O2 could lead to higher prices or poorer service for consumers.