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After a decade as CEO at BCE Inc., George Cope has begun preparing for a potential successor with the promotion of Mirko Bibic to chief operating officer.

BCE announced the new role for the long-time regulatory and corporate development executive on Thursday, saying Mr. Bibic will now also assume responsibility for the company’s key telecom units, overseeing its residential, wireless, small business and enterprise service divisions.

“Mirko is a leader who delivers results, and he has played a critical role in Bell’s successful transformation into Canada’s broadband communications leader over the last decade,” Mr. Cope said in a statement.

The move will give Mr. Bibic experience with the company’s front-line operations, making him a clear contender for the chief executive role. Mr. Cope was the last person to hold the title of COO at BCE before he took on the top job in 2008.

The promotion, which seems designed to pave the way for a smooth internal succession, comes after rivals Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. both stumbled on CEO succession in recent years, with the dramatic departures of Guy Laurence and Joe Natale, respectively.

And although some industry observers were somewhat surprised to see Mr. Bibic, a regulatory lawyer, pop up in the higher-profile role, he has worked on a slew of key strategic issues at the company, including its complicated acquisitions of Astral Media and Manitoba Telecom Services Inc., as well as supporting BCE’s major investments in building fibre-optic broadband to customers' homes.

“Mirko was very good at bobbing and weaving to avoid obstacles or when things arose that were unexpected. He was very adaptable and very flexible,” said Jay Forbes, the former CEO of MTS, of Mr. Bibic’s handling of the intense regulatory scrutiny that came with BCE’s takeover of that company in 2017.

Brian Facey, a partner with Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP who worked closely with BCE on the MTS and Astral acquisitions, as well as deals to buy CTV and an interest in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, says Mr. Bibic was a leader on those transactions.

“I think that Mr. Cope places a lot of faith in what Mirko does and says or he wouldn’t have gotten this far. I know that they work very well together and I think that bodes well for the future,” Mr. Facey said, adding, “I think he’s already been highly engaged in the operational side for the last number of years.”

Still, the company has no immediate plans to appoint a new CEO, spokesman Mark Langton said. “George remains Bell’s CEO and continues to lead the executive team in delivering on our successful broadband strategy.”

As part of the executive shuffle, Wade Oosterman will shift from an operational to advisory role, as he has been named vice-chair of BCE and Bell Canada. He will no longer oversee the telecom businesses, but will remain responsible for Bell Media as group president and retain the title of Bell’s chief brand officer.

Mr. Oosterman is a high-school friend of Mr. Cope’s, and the two have been long-time business associates and worked together on the cellular startup Clearnet in the 1980s. Telus acquired Clearnet in 2000, and the pair stayed on for several years before Mr. Cope moved to BCE in 2006 and Mr. Oosterman soon followed.

Asked about Mr. Oosterman’s own ambitions to one day be CEO, Mr. Forbes – who has known him for years – said, “I think he would certainly have the ability, but I think it’s more a question of what he wants to do at this age and stage in his career.” Mr. Oosterman and Mr. Cope are both 57, while Mr. Bibic is 51.

Both Mr. Oosterman and Mr. Bibic will report to Mr. Cope.

None of the BCE executives was available for an interview Thursday.

Mr. Bibic worked at law firm Stikeman Eilliott LLP in Ottawa before joining Bell in 2004. He became chief legal and regulatory officer in 2012. He has been based in Ottawa, but will now work out of BCE’s Toronto office.

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