Big Story 10

Altice CEO Combes resigns as company acts to address problems

(Reuters) - Altice NV said on Thursday that Chief Executive Michel Combes has resigned in a management reshuffle, with founder Patrick Drahi returning as president, as the telecoms group seeks to reassure investors following poor results in Europe.

FILE PHOTO: Patrick Drahi, Franco-Israeli businessman and Executive Chairman of cable and mobile telecoms company Altice, speaks during the launch of the news channel BFM Paris, in Paris, France, November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

Altice’s performance in Europe has led investors to question its strategy and fuelled concerns that the highly leveraged company will not be able to maintain its debt level in a rising interest rate environment.

“The new management and governance structure is designed to better implement Altice’s strategy, create clearer accountability amongst management and improve the operational and financial performance of the business,” the company said.

Shares in the Amsterdam-based company, whose debt burden reached 49.557 billion euros by the end of the third quarter, have lost around a third of their value since Altice said earlier this month that it lost about 75,000 broadband customers in France, its biggest market, in the third quarter.

“The U.S. has been doing well, better than expected, and the European operations have generally been sort of bouncing along the bottom,” said Pivotal Research Group analyst Jeff Wlodarczak. “Change had to be made.”

Drahi returns as president after stepping down from that role in 2016.

Dexter Goei was named as CEO and will also continue as chief executive and chairman of Altice USA.

Combes was appointed chief operating officer of Altice in 2015, after leaving as head of telecoms equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent ahead of its takeover by Finland’s Nokia. He became Altice’s chief executive the following year when Goei stepped down from the role to take the reins at Altice USA.

The new structure “aligns more fully the interests of founders and group management, both with significant ownership in the group and the public shareholder base,” Altice said.

Franco-Israeli tycoon Drahi is the group’s controlling shareholder, with a 31.1 percent stake according to Thomson Reuters data. Goei is the 10th-largest shareholder with a 0.75 percent stake.

In the other changes, Dennis Okhuijsen was named Altice Europe chief executive in addition to serving as chief financial officer of Altice NV, and Alain Weill, chief executive of the company’s SFR Media unit, is appointed SFR Group chairman and chief executive and Altice Media chief operating officer.

Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler