AT&T chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre announced his resignation effective June
3, 2007. His successor in both positions will be the company’s current COO,
Whitacre’s contract with the company wasn’t set to expire until April of
next year. A company spokesman refused to comment on why the timing was
moved up, other than to say that Whitacre “made the decision following a
long, very distinguished career.”
During his tenure, Whitaker led the transformation of Southwestern Bell
Telephone, the smallest of the telcos spun out of the 1984 breakup of AT&T,
into the world’s largest communications company by revenue; 2006 pro forma
revenue at AT&T amounted to more than $117 billion.
Stephenson, who lauded Whitacre as “an extraordinary leader,” pledged continuity with his predecessor’s policies. “We’re dedicated to the same
vision, strategy and focus,” he said in a statement.
Whitacre was not without his critics. In the company’s most recent proxy
statement, a shareholder resolution was presented that sought to limit
executive compensation. The resolution’s authors noted that Whitacre’s total
compensation over the previous five years amounted to $85.2 million, while
shareholder returns were a negative 40.3 percent over the same period.
Whitacre also became a lightening rod for supporters of network neutrality legislation because of comments he made confirming their
fears about his company’s plans to create a two-tiered Internet.
Cowen and Company analyst Shaun Parvez said Stephenson was the right choice
to succeed Whitacre. “He was the right-hand guy behind all the things the
company has been lauded for,” Parvez told internetnews.com.
Parvez said there are two possible explanations for Whitacre’s accelerated
departure, both related to the rumored acquisition by AT&T of Alltel
Either the acquisition isn’t in the offing, in which case there’s
no reason to hang around. Or the acquisition will take place, and Whitacre
is leaving soon because he “wants Stephenson to have one good deal under his
belt,” Parvez said.