AT&T CEO Whitacre to Retire June 3; COO Stephenson Gets Top Job

Ed Whitacre.
Ed Whitacre.

AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre said he will retire in June, after spending more than four decades at the company he helped build into the largest U.S. telecommunications service provider.

Whitacre, 65, announced his retirement at an annual shareholders meeting in San Antonio, where he also said the company's board has approved Chief Operating Officer Randall Stephenson to succeed him as both CEO and chairman.

"There would never be an easy time for me to leave this job. This job has meant so much to me, but now is the right time to step aside," said Whitacre, adding that June 3, his retirement date, will mark his 44th anniversary at the company.

Analysts said Stephenson was well-regarded in the financial community and had been widely expected to be promoted to CEO since Whitacre's contract had been due to expire in April 2008.

"He has been groomed for this position. He has been filling a lot of the CEO duties for some time now, and I think he's extremely capable. He's certainly one of the best managers in the industry," said John Hodulik, analyst at UBS.

Hodulik said Stephenson has overseen many parts of AT&T's business, including international operations, and led its charge into the enterprise market.

"I think Ed had an engineering background and Randall had more of a financial background. I think that's what's made them a good team," the analyst said.

Earlier this week, AT&T reported its first-quarter profit doubled, helped by its acquisition of BellSouth Corp. last year, though analysts said revenue growth and wireless subscriber growth were below expectations.