Cost-cutting billionaire Drahi takes 12% stake in BT

The billionaire owner of Sotheby’s auction house has bought a major chunk of BT, making him the biggest investor in the telecoms giant.

Patrick Drahi said that he sees great potential in the company, which he believes is well-placed to deliver Government targets on rolling out broadband to British homes.

His company Altice on Thursday revealed it had taken a 12.1% stake in the former state-run phone provider which was privatised in the 1980s.

“BT has a significant opportunity to upgrade and extend its full-fibre broadband network to bring substantial benefits to millions of households across the UK. We fully support the management’s strategy to deliver on this opportunity,” Mr Drahi said.

“We understand that the expansion of the broadband network is one of the UK Government’s most important policy objectives and a core part of its levelling up agenda.”

Mr Drahi has been snapping up European and US telecoms companies since the early 2000s when he founded Altice.

Over the last two decades he has grown the company to a giant, but also gained a reputation as the king of cost-cutting.

So much so that unions at French company SFR claimed their members started facing shortages of paper after Altice took over – both printer and toilet paper.

Altice itself defends its position as a prudent one: By cutting costs now you can increase profits and free up money to invest further down the line.

In 2019 Mr Drahi ventured into the art world with a 3.7 billion US dollar (£2.6 billion) deal for Sotheby’s.

A 12.1% share in BT will not give Mr Drahi the control he needs to single-handedly push through changes at the UK company.

He assured investors on Thursday that he has no plans to take over the entire firm and was keen to stress that he believes the company’s managers are on the right track.

BT said: “BT Group notes the announcement from Altice of their investment in BT and their statement of support for our management and strategy.

“We welcome all investors who recognise the long-term value of our business and the important role it plays in the UK. We are making good progress in delivering our strategy and plan.”