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Pearson names Microsoft exec Abbosh CEO as Bird retires

Omar Abbosh, chief strategy officer at Accenture, speaks during the annual Cyberweek conference at Tel Aviv University

By Yadarisa Shabong and Eva Mathews

(Reuters) -Pearson's CEO Andy Bird is retiring after three years of leading the turnaround of the global education group, and will be replaced by Microsoft executive Omar Abbosh, the company said on Wednesday.

Abbosh, 57, will take over the reins early in 2024 from Bird, 59, whose strategy of selling directly to consumers helped Pearson out of a tumultuous few years during the pandemic.

Shares in Pearson were down 5.2% at 838 pence in morning trading in London. They had surged more than 62% under Bird's leadership, but are still off their 1999 all-time high of 2,433.9 pence.

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Bird sought to sharpen Pearson's focus to selling directly to consumers and away from traditional educational outlets as the pandemic boosted demand for online learning.

He rejected an $8.5-billion takeover approach from Apollo last year.

Pearson would compensate Abbosh for leaving Microsoft, including cash and an award of restricted shares equivalent to a maximum of 50,813 Microsoft shares or about 13 million pounds ($16.06 million) at the current price and foreign exchange rates, it said.

Abbosh is currently president of Microsoft's Industry Solutions business, following three decades at Accenture in numerous senior leadership roles, including chief strategy officer.

"The Company is at an exciting stage of its growth journey in markets that are increasingly digital. I look forward to building on the strategic growth opportunities," Abbosh said in a statement.

Former Walt Disney Co executive Bird had joined as CEO in October 2020. The British company had to change the rules and get the backing of shareholders to offer him a co-investment opportunity worth up to $9.3 million.

"Bird hasn't been in the top job for too long, but it’s been long enough to oversee a significant transformation of Pearson’s priorities," said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Sophie Lund-Yates.

($1 = 0.8093 pounds)

(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; editing by Janane Venkatraman, Jason Neely and Bernadette Baum)