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Smith rings off as Telefónica GC amid looming £31bn Virgin Media and O2 megamerger

Noted in-house veteran Edward Smith is to leave his role as general counsel of Telefónica UK after 20 years at the company as telecoms giants Virgin Media and O2 prepare to finalise their £31bn merger.

Smith (pictured) joined the company as legal counsel from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in 2001 and his career there has spanned roles including head of corporate and commercial law and head of legal.

He has been general counsel of O2, which is owned by Spain’s Telefónica, since November 2011 and was appointed to the O2 executive committee in 2016. News of Smith’s departure comes after the $31bn tie-up between Virgin Media, which is owned by US multinational Liberty Global, and O2 received provisional approval from the Competition and Markets Authority earlier this month.

The executive team of the new joint venture was announced on Friday (23 April), including that Telefónica’s respected Madrid-based chief policy officer Enrique Medina Malo is to be its GC.

Often outspoken, Smith has been a stalwart of the GC Powerlist UK since its inception. In 2019 he described his leadership style thus: ‘I hope people would think of me as approachable, informal and someone who doesn’t bullshit. I like to think of myself as supportive and, once he has chosen the right person for the job, someone who interferes as little as possible.’

Smith shared some highlights of his career in a statement: ‘I joined O2 twenty years ago and I have been part of its transformation from an unloved collection of assets, to a telecoms superbrand. None of the progress came easily and it has been a professional privilege to have worked with so many bright, decisive and enthusiastic people along the way.

‘My personal highlights have included the creation of the O2 brand, the takeover by Telefónica, the network share with Vodafone, the introduction of the iPhone to the UK as an O2 exclusive and, most recently, the joint venture with Virgin Media. The creation of O2/Virgin joint venture, which remains subject to regulatory approval, makes perfect sense for O2 and UK consumers, and I am sure it will be a great success. The closure of this deal will give me a great sense of personal satisfaction, but when the JV is formed it will be the right time for me to leave and find my next challenge. I am excited for what the future will hold.’