AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, Chief Executive’s 2016 CEO Of The Year, To Retire

Under Stephenson, Dallas-based AT&T transformed from an old-line telecom to a media and technology powerhouse. “The kind of transformational leader...Alexander Graham Bell and Theodore Vail would have celebrated."

Randall Stephenson being presented the 2016 CEO of the Year award by Boeing’s Jim McNerney.

Randall Stephenson, the CEO who led AT&T through 13 years of transformation from an old-line telephone company to a media and technology powerhouse, announced that he will retire from his role as chief executive effective July 1. He will remain chairman.

AT&T said president and chief operating Officer John Stankey will become CEO effective July 1.

“I congratulate John, and I look forward to partnering with him as the leadership team moves forward on our strategic initiatives while navigating the difficult economic and health challenges currently facing our country and the world,” Stephenson said in a company press release. “John has the right experiences and skills, and the unflinching determination every CEO needs to act on his convictions. He has a terrific leadership team onboard to ensure AT&T remains strong and continues to deliver for customers and shareholders for years to come.”

Under Stephenson, Dallas-based AT&T pushed hard to expand and also diversify away from telecom through a number of high-profile deals, including their failed attempt to buy T-Mobile in 2011, the acquisitions of Leap Wireless in 2013 and DirectTV in 2014 and—most significantly—the controversial $85 billion purchase of Time Warner.

That deal took years to close thanks to a bruising battle with regulators and the Trump administration, followed by a high-profile fight with activist investor Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which had taken a $3.2 billion stake in the company. The fight with Singer was eventually settled, and CNBC reports Elliott Management has agreed to the transition plan.

In 2016, Stephenson’s peer CEOs named him Chief Executive magazine’s CEO of the Year for his leadership in remaking the company for a new, fully-digital future with an unrelenting focus on infrastructure investment, employee retraining—and game-changing M&A.

“Randall Stephenson represents not just among the finest of American industry,” said Jim McNerney, former Chairman and CEO of Boeing and 2015 Chief Executive of the Year, but the kind of transformational leader in telecom that Alexander Graham Bell and Theodore Vail would have celebrated today for mastering technology, regulation, reach and customer service.”

Maggie Wilderotter, then-executive chairman of Frontier Communications and another member of the selection committee, agreed: “He is a value-based, strategic leader who cares about his employees, customers and shareholders. Randall also gives back to the communities he serves and to our country in many ways—including his tenure as chairman of the Business Roundtable and his active service on the Boy Scouts of America’s board of directors. He is most deserving of this award!”

“Randall has done an outstanding job as CEO in transforming AT&T into a leader in communications, technology, and media and entertainment,” Matt Rose, AT&T’s independent Lead Director, said in a company press release. “His strong leadership and strategic investments during a period of unprecedented customer demand for mobile communications and premium entertainment have positioned the company extremely well for the years ahead. We look forward to Randall continuing to lead the Board and working with John to ensure a smooth leadership transition.”

Dan Bigman
Dan Bigman is Editor and Chief Content Officer of Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, ChiefExecutive.net, Boardmember.com and StrategicCFO360. Previously he was Managing Editor at Forbes and the founding business editor of NYTimes.com.