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George Cope, seen here on April 26, 2017, will step down as BCE’s CEO in January.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Bank of Montreal announced Friday that it will appoint George Cope, the long-time chief executive of BCE Inc., as its next board chair.

Mr. Cope, 58, plans to step down as BCE’s CEO in January, after leading the telecom giant since 2008. He will take up his new role at BMO’s March 31 annual meeting.

He is no stranger to the bank, having served as a director since 2006. But his appointment as chair, two years after the bank made Darryl White its CEO at the age of 46, marks a new generation of leadership. Mr. Cope succeeds outgoing chair Robert Prichard, who departs after 20 years on the board, having reached term and age limits. Mr. Prichard, 70, is a lawyer and former university president who has served as BMO’s chair since 2012 and was instrumental in choosing Mr. White.

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"George's distinguished record as a public company chief executive and reputation as a strategic leader committed to innovation, growth and good governance make him the ideal Chair to take the board forward," Mr. Prichard said in a statement.

Mr. Cope’s nomination was unanimous, according to a statement from Christine Edwards, who chairs the governance and nominating committee of BMO’s board.

The bank is in the midst of a plan to improve its efficiency while expanding the reach of its U.S. bank, BMO Harris Bank, beyond its traditional Midwest stronghold in a climate of trade tensions and economic uncertainty. And, like most banks, BMO is spending heavily on new technology as daily banking goes increasing digital and artificial intelligence promises to reshape work forces.

"I am fully behind BMO's strong management team and its plans to deliver on the bank's strategic priorities," Mr. Cope said in a statement.

Neither Mr. Cope nor Mr. Prichard were available for interviews.

Mr. Cope took charge of BCE at a time when the legacy telephone operator was facing a steep decline in its primary business. Shortly afterward, a deal to take the company private fell through, but he continued with a turnaround plan that saw a major restructuring of the management ranks, an overhaul of marketing and new investments in its landline and wireless networks.

He also led BCE through a series of acquisitions, including major deals to acquire Astral Media, CTV and Manitoba Telecom Services. Smaller strategic buys included retail distributor The Source and 37.5 per cent of Toronto sports team owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.

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Mr. Cope joined wireless startup Clearnet in the 1980s, shortly after graduating from the University of Western Ontario. He helped take the company public and sold it to Telus Corp. for $6-billion in 2000.

When he announced his retirement from BCE in June, making way for Mirko Bibic to take over, he said he planned to stay involved in commercial and charitable communities.

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