Baptiest Coopmans becomes CEO of UPC Switzerland

Following the collapse of the merger between UPC and Sunrise, there will also be a change of leadership at Switzerland's largest cable network operator: Severina Pascu will hand over the management of UPC Switzerland to Baptiest Coopmans at the beginning of February.


The 46-year-old Pascu is moving to Virgin Media, which is the largest subsidiary of UPC owner Liberty Global. There she will become deputy CEO and chief financial officer, UPC announced in a communiqué on Wednesday.

The move has nothing to do with the failure of the UPC Sunrise deal, UPC spokeswoman Stephanie Niggli told news agency AWP on Wednesday: "It's the next step in her career."

Pascu is thus moving to a company that plays in a completely different league than UPC. Virgin Media came in at $6.9 billion in revenue in 2018 and had 4.1 million TV customers. By contrast, UPC had revenues of just $1.3 billion in 2018 and served 1.1 million TV customers.


Climbing the career ladder

In this respect, the change is a career move for Pascu. However, the Romanian's departure after almost a year and a half as head of UPC Switzerland had already been planned for some time. Because at Virgin Media, the position of deputy CEO has not existed until now. And since last August, the position of Chief Financial Officer has only been filled by an executive CFO.

According to informed sources, Pascu engineered her departure from UPC Switzerland before Sunrise's purchase of UPC was called off at the end of October. The CHF 6.3 billion deal failed due to opposition from Sunrise's major shareholders led by Freenet, which owns just under a quarter of Sunrise's shares.

Freenet CEO Christoph Vilanek criticized the purchase price as too high and opposed a capital increase worth billions to finance the acquisition. In addition, he no longer saw the strategic sense of the takeover. Because of the new 5G mobile communications generation, the purchase of the UPC cable network for so much money was not worthwhile. Spending 6.3 billion Swiss francs for this would be "madness," Vilanek had explained.

Thus, another attempt to form a stronger challenger to industry leader Swisscom in the Swiss telecommunications market failed. Nine years ago, the Swiss Federal Competition Commission (Comco) had prohibited the planned merger of Sunrise and Orange on competition grounds. However, the antitrust watchdogs had no objections to Sunrise's purchase of UPC.

The failed deal also led to several departures at Sunrise: At the beginning of the year, Group CEO Olaf Swantee, Chairman of the Board Peter Kurer and Vice Chairman Peter Schöpfer announced their departure.


Full throttle for turnaround

Pascu had gone full throttle at UPC to turn around the shrinking cable network operator. It tried to win customers for the new TV platform with special promotions and doubled the maximum Internet speed in the cable network to 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s). In the meantime, this brought it on a par with Swisscom's top speed on fiber-optic lines. However, the top dog has already announced another increase to 10 Gbit/s for March, which would see Swisscom catch up with Salt.

In addition, UPC launched new mobile offerings under Pascu's leadership following Salt's switch to Swisscom's mobile network. This also enabled the cable network operator to offer unlimited subscriptions and roaming options.

In addition, service quality has been significantly improved through investments in digitalization and the simplification of processes and systems, UPC wrote on Wednesday: "All of this has led to significantly higher customer satisfaction under the responsibility of Severina Pascu."


Downward trend only slowed

However, the Romanian was only able to slow down the downward slide, but not stop it. Since Pascu took office in summer 2018, UPC has lost around 101,000 TV customers, 54,000 Internet subscribers and 21,000 fixed-network telephone customers. Only the small mobile communications division was able to gain 60,000 additional customers.

Revenue also fell by almost 6 percent in the first nine months of 2019 compared to the same period last year. Operating cash flow, which UPC considers a key figure for the company's operating performance, fell by almost 12 percent due to higher project and marketing costs for growth plans and customer losses. At least UPC was able to slightly increase the number of subscriptions including mobile for the first time in two years in the third quarter of 2019.

Under Pascu, the company achieved its best results in the last two years, UPC wrote. The way is thus paved for her successor. Baptiest Coopmans is now to implement the next phase of the growth plan.

Coopmans joined Liberty Global in 2013 as head of UPC Netherlands. There, he led the merger of UPC and Ziggo into the leading national cable and media operator, achieving significant synergies, the group wrote.

Currently, Coopmans is responsible for Liberty Global's technology, network and operations in Europe, as well as the services Liberty Global provides to other providers. As head of UPC Switzerland, he will also manage Liberty Global's operations in Poland and Slovakia, like his predecessor. (SDA)

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