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AT&T names John Stankey CEO as Randall Stephenson plans to retire

AT&T, the telecommunications giant that has moved into media and entertainment, announced a changing of the guard Friday.

[NEW YORK] AT&T, the telecommunications giant that has moved into media and entertainment, announced a changing of the guard Friday.

John Stankey, a veteran of the company, will become its new chief executive starting July 1. He will take the reins from Randall L. Stephenson, who has led AT&T since 2007.

Mr Stankey, 57, became the chief operating officer in October and has managed the bulk of the company's operations since then. Before that, he led AT&T's move into the media and entertainment industries after its US$85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner, the home of CNN, HBO and the Warner Bros movie studio, in 2018.

Mr Stephenson, 60, will stay on as executive chairman through this year, the company said.

Mr Stankey, a California native, started his career in 1985, at Pacific Bell. He once led AT&T's wireline operations and oversaw DirecTV, the satellite TV service acquired by the phone giant in 2015.

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That division has suffered major declines as customers have defected to cheaper, online alternatives such as Netflix. The migration of viewers to streaming prompted AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner and the multibillion-dollar development of HBO Max, the streaming service that is scheduled to debut May 27.

As the leader of AT&T's WarnerMedia division from the time of the merger until recently, Stankey stepped out of the relatively anonymous role of telecommunications executive and into the media glare. In his 20 months at the WarnerMedia helm, Stankey refashioned the division to focus on streaming and dissolved the borders between the conglomerate's separate units.

Mr Stankey has had his detractors. Not long after he was named to lead the media business, Elliott Management, one of Wall Street's biggest and most aggressive hedge funds, bought a US$3.2 billion stake in AT&T and sharply criticised its strategy. Elliott took direct aim at Mr Stankey.

Elliott backed off after Stephenson agreed to some of its suggestions, and Friday, the hedge fund announced its support of Stankey's appointment as chief executive.

The board concluded its search for a new AT&T chief executive this month, much earlier than planned, and decided to announce Stankey as the new head right away.


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