Celebrating the 2016 CEO of the Year: AT&T’s Randall Stephenson

“In his nearly 10 years leading AT&T, Randall Stephenson has continually driven growth by delivering a great customer experience and moving the company into new markets in an intensely competitive, dynamic industry,” said Jim McNerney, former CEO of Boeing and Chief Executive’s 2015 CEO of the Year, who commended Stephenson for creating value during his tenure. “During that time, the company’s annual average return to shareholders rose to 10%—and that is each and every year—with revenues increasing nearly 24% from roughly $119 billion in 2007 to $147 billion in 2015.”

“Once we got past the performance criteria, we also looked at employee engagement and people processes; the company’s impact on the community; and then, finally, the person him or herself—that missing dimension that has to do with substance and values like courage, integrity, judgment and personal reputation,” added Tom Saporito, CEO of RHR International, who served as an advisor to the selection committee. “These are the leadership qualities on display during challenging times and critical decision making, moments that ultimately make good leaders great.”

“In his nearly 10 years leading AT&T, Randall Stephenson has continually driven growth by delivering a great customer experience and moving the company into new markets in an intensely competitive, dynamic industry.”

In accepting the award, Stephenson thanked his wife and his executive team for helping to make it possible and then took the opportunity to speak up for a business community that has been repeatedly vilified during the year’s tumultuous presidential campaign. “If you listen to the political rhetoric going on, you would think that American business is stealing the American Dream,” he said. “I would suggest to you that the American Dream would not even be possible were it not for highly competitive, highly productive American businesses. Think about what you do. You invest, you innovate, you invent, you hire, you provide healthcare and educate your people—and you pay a whole lot of taxes. American business is not the villain. In fact, American business is the very engine that makes this whole thing possible.”

The comment underscored a sentiment voiced earlier in the evening by Marshall Cooper, CEO of Chief Executive Group, who also acknowledged that divisive messages have fueled discontent and anger. “Cynicism against our leaders and institutions has become deep-rooted,” he noted. “The free-market system provides more innovation, choice, jobs, social mobility and wealth than any other force in human history. At the same time, it is by no means perfect—and the people in this room have an obligation to help fix it.”

Cooper urged business leaders to play a part in addressing that issue. “In addition to our day jobs, it is up to the men and women in this room tonight—through both our day-to-day actions and as part of our life’s work—to help guide not just our employees, but also our communities and this country, by living and teaching core values that have underpinned American society for 240 years.”

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As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.

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