Randall Stephenson Retires as AT&T CEO, and John Stankey Will Succeed Him

After 13 years in the top spot, he’ll pass the baton on July 1

Photo of Randall Stephenson and John Stankey
AT&T's board spent three years looking for Randall Stephenson's successor, before settling on John Stankey. AT&T, Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

AT&T is about to have its first new CEO in 13 years.

Randall Stephenson, the company’s chairman and CEO, will retire as CEO effective July 1, and will serve as executive chairman of the board of directors through next January. John Stankey will succeed him as CEO beginning July 1, and will join AT&T’s board of directors on June 1.

Stankey was just promoted to president and COO last October—a move that set him up as Stephenson’s likely successor—but has been with AT&T since 1985. During his time at the company, Stankey’s roles have included CEO of WarnerMedia, CEO of AT&T Entertainment Group, chief strategy officer, chief technology Officer, CEO of AT&T Operations and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions.

“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,” said Stephenson in a statement. “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’s leadership, AT&T significantly broadened its entertainment scope, bringing in DirecTV and then acquiring Time Warner—now known as WarnerMedia—in 2018, in one of the biggest media mergers of all time.

Stephenson has served as CEO since 2007. He had previously spent 25 years at Southwestern Bell Telephone, eventually becoming COO.

AT&T said its board has been searching for Stephenson’s successor since 2017, looking at both internal and external candidates, before settling on Stankey.

“Leadership succession is one of the board’s most important responsibilities,” said AT&T director Beth Mooney in a statement. “After an extensive evaluation, it was clear that John Stankey was the right person to lead AT&T into the future.”

“I’m honored to be elected the next CEO of AT&T, a company with a rich history and a bright future,” said Stankey in a statement. “We have a strong company, leading brands and a great employee team, which I’m privileged to lead. I couldn’t be more excited about the new opportunities we have to serve our customers and communities and create value for our shareholders.”

AT&T said later this year, the board will elect an independent director to chair its board following Stephenson’s retirement in January 2021.

The CEO change comes as AT&T—along with all other major media companies—is reeling from the impact of the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, AT&T reported bleak first quarter earnings as a result of the pandemic, with its advertising, theatrical and overall revenues taking Covid-19-related hits.

AT&T execs said during the earnings call that upcoming streaming service HBO Max—which debuts May 27—along with expanded 5G capabilities and connectivity services, are the anticipated bright spots for a company facing revenue drops almost across the board.

“The crisis has shown the value of premium streaming entertainment, and we anticipate a strong demand for HBO Max when it launches next month,” AT&T chief financial officer John Stephens said.


@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.
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