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Cellnex picks TIM veteran as new CEO after board tensions

FILE PHOTO: A telecom antenna of Spanish telecom infrastructure company Cellnex is seen in Madrid, Spain

By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) -Europe's largest mobile phone tower operator Cellnex said on Friday it picked Marco Patuano, its former chairman and a Telecom Italia (TIM) veteran, as the new chief executive, capping weeks of board tensions over the succession process.

Outgoing CEO Tobias Martinez announced in January he would step down in June after eight years in the job at the Spanish company.

Italian executive Patuano will start the three-year term on June 4 after his designation is approved by shareholders at an annual meeting on June 1, Cellnex said in a statement.

His main challenge will be to successfully lead Cellnex's strategic shift after it decided in November to halt the hectic expansion it had conducted since it was founded in 2015 and seek to reduce its debt and obtain a credit rating upgrade.

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"Cellnex is a great company with a bright future," Patuano said in the statement.

He was Cellnex non-executive chairman in 2018-2019, and is a former CEO of the Benetton family holding Edizione and of TIM, where he worked for over 25 years. He is now chairman of Italian utility A2a.

His appointment comes two days after Cellnex named two new board members, one of them representing activist hedge fund TCI, which has become its largest single shareholder.

In March, TCI demanded the removal of Cellnex's chair and two board members, arguing the hiring process was advancing too slowly.

The chair and an independent board member resigned earlier this month, citing "irreconcilable differences with the board" over management issues and the succession process.

Cellnex also announced on Friday the appointment of two new independent board members, which would take the board to 13 seats.

Cellnex's shares were up 0.61% at 0931 GMT.

(Reporting by Joan FausAdditional reporting by Elisa Anzolin and Tiago BrandaoEditing by Inti Landauro and Frances Kerry)