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Orange UK CEO Hires 3 Former Virgin Mobile Executives

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LONDON (Dow Jones) Newly appointed Orange UK Chief Executive Tom Alexander Thursday announced the appointment of three senior executives to his management team as part of a drive to turn around the fortunes of the UK's third largest mobile operator.

Alexander, the founder and former CEO of Virgin Mobile who joined Orange in October, has moved fast to strengthen his management team, hiring three of his former top executives.

Andrew Ralston, former customer relations director at Virgin Mobile, joins as chief operations officer. One-time Virgin Mobile operations director Gerry McQuade joins as chief development officer, while Steven Day, formerly Virgin Mobile's head of corporate affairs, will become Orange's chief of staff and communications.

Orange, owned by France Telecom, appointed Alexander three months ago following the departure of former U.K. chief executive Bernard Ghillebaert. Alexander has been charged with returning the mobile operator to its former glory as one of the UK's leading brands amid tough competition from rivals Telefonica O2, Vodafone Group and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile.

Orange UK's mobile business saw gross operating profit, which analysts consider to be equivalent to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, fall by 6.9% to EUR712 million in the first half of 2007. The previous year it dropped 17% to EUR1.37 billion.

The company has also faced tough competition in the UK broadband market since buying Internet service provider Wanadoo for GBP1.6 billion seven years ago. The UK's one-time largest Internet service provider has dropped to fifth place among the UK's residential broadband service providers, having seen subscriber numbers decline in the face of fierce competition from BT Group, British Sky Broadcasting Group and Carphone Warehouse Group.

Alexander who built Virgin Mobile from scratch to become the UK's fifth-largest mobile operator before leaving in 2006 after selling it to NTL for nearly GBP1 billion, also previously worked with Ralston and McQuade at BT Cellnet, now rebranded O2.

"Over the coming weeks, the U.K. management and myself will be working together to ensure the right things are in place to ensure ongoing success for Orange," Alexander said in a statement late Thursday.

France Telecom's shares ended the day down EUR0.11, or 0.4%, at EUR25.76 in a weaker French market.

-By Daniel Thomas, Dow Jones Newswires; 44-20-7842-9264; dan.thomas@dowjones.com

(Jethro Mullen in Paris contributed to this article.)

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

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