Randall Stephenson, the chief executive of AT&T, is retiring after 13 years at the helm. He announced the news at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, which was held virtually today due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been an amazing period of time where I have had the unique privilege of leading AT&T through an exciting transformation,” Stephenson said at the meeting.
The 60-year-old executive oversaw an aggressive acquisition strategy at the Dallas-based telecom giant, including its purchases of DirecTV in 2015 and Time Warner in 2018. Some of those bets have appeared more dubious in light of the declining fortunes of the linear pay-TV business. Activist investors had been clamoring for changes in leadership for some time.
Stephenson will stay with the company as executive chairman of its board until January of next year to “ensure a smooth transition,” he said. John Stankey, currently AT&T’s chief operating officer and formerly the head of WarnerMedia, will take over as CEO on July 1.
“I’m honored to be elected the next CEO of AT&T, a company with a rich history and a bright future,” Stankey said in a statement. “My thanks go to Randall for his vision and outstanding leadership during a period of tremendous change and investment in the core capabilities needed to position AT&T well for the years ahead.”
AT&T says the transition completes the last stage of a “succession planning process” that began in 2017. Stankey recently handed off the top WarnerMedia role to Jason Kilar, a co-founder of Hulu, who takes the reins next month. The unit, which includes HBO, is seen as a vital piece of AT&T’s future in the age of streaming, despite an increasingly competitive landscape and crowded marketplace for subscription-based over-the-top services.
At today’s meeting, Stankey remarked that he first joined the company 35 years ago as a customer service rep. “I can honestly say I didn’t see this in the cards,” he said.