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Avanti board shake-up paves way for Walsh’s exit

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One of Britain’s most prominent businessmen is preparing to step down from the helm of Avanti Communications after a five-year stint in which he has overseen a mammoth restructuring of the satellite operator.

Sky News understands that Avanti is likely to announce in the coming days that Alan Harper, a non-executive who became interim chief executive last year, will move to the role of deputy chairman and senior independent director.

Mr Harper’s appointment will put him in pole position to replace Paul Walsh, the former Diageo boss who is expected to step down as Avanti’s chairman next year.

The satellite group is also expected to say that Andy Green, the current senior independent director, is stepping down from its board.

John Slamecka, the president of AT&T in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is poised to join Avanti’s board as part of the shake-up, according to a City source.

Avanti, which has a market value of just £64m, has seen its progress slowed by a $1bn debt mountain which it fought an ultimately successful battle to restructure.

Mr Walsh, who also chairs Compass Group, the FTSE-100 catering giant, appointed Kyle Whitehill, an experienced satellite industry figure, as Avanti’s chief executive last year.

One investor said Mr Walsh had signalled plans to step down having steered Avanti through “a complete overhaul of its balance sheet, operations and management”.

The company has begun to demonstrate operational progress, reporting a return to profit in the first half of this financial year, and announcing a series of long-term capacity deals on its satellites.

Avanti started out as a provider of advertising on screens at supermarket tills, but transformed itself into a provider of satellite data communications services.

In recent months it has secured a $20m payment following arbitration proceedings against the Indonesian government relating to the use of one of its satellites.

Growing demand for broadband and communications services provision in Africa and other underserved parts of the world has fuelled a surge in the number of privately owned satellite businesses.

However, the cost of the technology and operational requirements have left many of them saddled with debts, fuelling expectations of consolidation through mergers and takeovers.

The company declined to comment on Wednesday.

(c) Sky News 2018: Avanti board shake-up paves way for Walsh’s exit