TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding, who had the dubious honour of presiding over a brand which some claim will be forever be associated with lax data security, is stepping down after what she decribed as “seven extraordinary and fulfilling years”.
Harding, who will leave the company in May, said she wants to focus on “more activities in public service”; she is a member of the House of Lords, non-executive director of the Bank of England and a trustee of digital inclusion charity Doteveryone.
Having started her career at management consultancy McKinsey, Harding then held a number of marketing and commercial roles at Thomas Cook Woolworths, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. She was named CEO of TalkTalk in 2010, a year after it acquired Tiscali UK.
The company has never exactly been blessed with good PR; it has consistently topped the Ofcom complaints league, while in 2011 it was forced to shell out £5.5m – including fines and goodwill payments – after a major billing cock-up saw thousands of customers overcharged.
Two years later it was hit with a £750,000 Ofcom fine for a marketing campaign which resulted in 9,000 silent and abandoned calls.
But the worst was yet to come; in October 2015 TalkTalk suffered what the then Information Commissioner Christopher Graham branded a “car crash” data breach, losing 15,600 bank account numbers and sort codes in a mass hack attack.
At the time, Harding insisted TalkTalk was simply being used as a punchball, but an ICO investigation went on to rule that security failings had allowed hackers to access sensitive customer data direct from its systems “with ease”. Cue another fine, this time of £400,000. However, this is dwarfed by the estimated £60m final bill for the breach.
At TalkTalk, Harding will be replaced by managing director Tristia Harrison, while Charles Blingh will take up the role of chief operating officer. Both have been on the TalkTalk board since 2014.
The company has also announced that founder Charles Dunstone will become executive chairman, after leaving his role as chairman of Dixons Carphone in May this year.
Harding said: “After seven extraordinary and fulfilling years, during which we have transformed TalkTalk’s customer experience and laid the foundations for long term growth, I’ve decided it’s time for me to start handing over the reins at TalkTalk and focus more on my activities in public service.”
She continued: “I am very proud to be handing over to the next generation of TalkTalk leadership who, together with Charles, have played such an integral part in the success of the business to date.”
TalkTalk’s latest trading update reveals it had lost 42,00 broadband customers and 31,000 TV customers with revenues sliding from £459m to £435m year-on-year.
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