AT&T CEO retiring as telco plans for three years of cost cuts and layoffs

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson standing and speaking on a stage in front of a big AT&T logo.
Enlarge / AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson speaking at an investor event at Warner Bros. Studios on October 29, 2019 in Burbank, California.

Getty Images | Presley Ann

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson is retiring at the end of June and handing the reins to executive John Stankey, who will lead the telco through a multi-year cost-cutting program.¬†Stankey, the company president and COO, will become CEO on July 1, AT&T announced today. Stephenson “will serve as Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors until January 2021 to ensure a smooth leadership transition.”

Stephenson, 60, has been AT&T’s CEO since 2007; he began his AT&T career in 1982 with Southwestern Bell Telephone, a subsidiary.

“Stankey’s selection as AT&T’s next CEO completes the final phase of a succession planning process that AT&T’s Board began in 2017, which included a thorough evaluation of internal and external candidates,” today’s announcement said.

AT&T executive John Stankey.
Enlarge / AT&T executive John Stankey.


Stankey, 57, has been with AT&T since 1985 and has been president and COO since October 2019. He has recently taken on a more prominent role as part of succession planning. Last month, Stankey detailed a cost-cutting plan to “generate double digits of billions over a 3-year planning cycle.” That will include job cuts, which Stankey called “headcount rationalization.”

Stankey gave a lower savings number when talking to investors this week, saying, “We’re working on 10 broad areas of opportunity that we expect will deliver $6 billion in cost savings over the next three years and improve market effectiveness, everything from IT and field operations to call centers and retail distribution.”

AT&T lost another 897,000 premium TV subscribers in Q1 2020, as DirecTV customers continue to flee in droves. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015 under Stephenson’s leadership. AT&T has lost more than 4 million TV customers over the past year.

AT&T’s mobile business remains a big moneymaker, but overall company revenue in Q1 2020 was $42.8 billion, down from $44.8 billion in last year’s first quarter. AT&T’s WarnerMedia division, a result of Stephenson’s Time Warner acquisition, reported a 12.2-percent year-over-year revenue decline and expects tough times ahead as the pandemic forced the cancellation of big sporting events and TV and film production.

23,700 job cuts since end of 2018

AT&T had 244,490 employees at the end of March. The company had 268,220 employees at the end of 2018 but cut more than 20,000 jobs in 2019 and another 3,310 in Q1 2020. In March, Stankey said AT&T plans “additional work” in the “headcount-rationalization” area, meaning more job cuts are on the way.¬†AT&T has conducted heavy layoffs over the past couple of years despite Stephenson claiming AT&T would use a corporate tax cut to create thousands of jobs.

In today’s succession announcement, Stephenson said he looks forward to working with Stankey “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. John has the right experiences and skills, and the unflinching determination every CEO needs to act on his convictions.”

Stankey said he “couldn’t be more excited about the new opportunities we have to serve our customers and communities and create value for our shareholders.”

After Stephenson leaves the board-chairman position, AT&T said it “will elect an independent director” as a new chairperson. Having separate people as CEO and chair is a concession AT&T made to an activist investor group in October 2019. AT&T also promised to make “no major acquisitions” over the next three years. AT&T’s acquisitions have contributed to a long-term debt load of $147.2 billion, which AT&T is focusing on reducing.

Stephenson’s total compensation in 2019 was $32.03 million, while Stankey’s was $22.47 million.

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