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AT&T CFO: 'My story is only possible in this country'

·4 min read
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AT&T's (T) new CFO, Pascal Desroches, says his vision of success is leaving the telecommunications and media giant "in better stead than where we found it."

"Ultimately, we are stewards. We inherited a great company, and we need to leave a better company for the next generation," Desroches told Yahoo Finance in a wide-ranging conversation.

Desroches' vision of a great company is leaving AT&T the "best communication and entertainment company in the world" that is "known for innovation" as well as "ethical behavior" and is "operated with integrity."

"That's the goal, and we're committed to it," the CFO added.

Desroches, who officially took the top finance job on April 1, is one of Yahoo Finance's The Next: 21 to watch in 2021 series, 21 people we believe will leave an indelible mark this year.

As AT&T's finance chief, Desroches allocates capital across the business with a focus on 5G, fiber-optic broadband, the HBO Max streaming service, and, of course, sustaining the dividend.

"[Part] of my effort is to make sure we are generating sufficient cash to ensure that we're able to sustain our dividend, pay down debt and also operate our businesses in a very efficient way," Desroches said.

Desroches, 56, is also among a small number of high-ranking Black executives in corporate America, a statistic he hopes to change.

A Haitian-American, Desroches immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age five, an experience that remains a "foundational piece" of his story with his parents' sacrifices continuing to serve as a source of inspiration.

"When my parents immigrated here — they were in their late 30s, didn't know the language, had to learn the language, secure jobs, and they did it while educating four young children."

Image courtesy of Pascal Desroches
Image courtesy of Pascal Desroches

His mother would often work double shifts as a nurse, while his father often had more than one job to help supplement income, including to send their children to college. After graduating from public school in Queens, Desroches went on to earn his undergraduate degree from St. John's University debt-free and then received his MBA from Columbia University.

"[When] I look back at their experience, and what they've done, no matter what I achieved, it will pale in comparison to the courage and resolve they had in coming to this country at a time of great uncertainty for them, personally. They made the sacrifice in order to put us in a better position. So I often say, 'there's no such thing as a bad day,' whenever I think about that."

Desroches began his career at KPMG, rising the ranks to become a partner. He also did a stint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as part of a fellowship program working with the agency's chief accountant. While with the SEC, he met the controller at Time Warner, who eventually hired him in 2001. Desroches has held various key roles, including global controller at Time Warner, CFO of Turner Broadcasting, and CFO of WarnerMedia. In November 2020, Desroches was selected to succeed John Stephens as CFO effective April 1, 2021.

Desroches pointed out that companies "are really good at executing on things that they prioritize" when it comes to increasing diversity.

"If you prioritize creating a more diverse workforce that is represented at all levels of the organization — it will take some time — but it will happen. You have to be deliberate. And it starts with the board of directors holding executive management accountable for improving diversity across the organization. Then it takes people at my level, making sure that our teams are prioritizing this," the finance executive added.

Part of that effort includes hiring diverse talent and providing candid feedback and development to strengthen the pipeline to fill opportunities as they open up. What's more, it's essential to measure progress quarterly, he noted.

"'What progress are we making? Where do we have gaps?' And really being intentional about measuring progress and holding people accountable for getting better. I think if prioritized and focused on over the long term, that's how you solve the problem. It's a hard one. It's a complicated one, but one that is immediately solvable, if there is a commitment to doing so, from the very top of the organization that pervades itself down to down the ranks," Desroches added.

As a high-profile leader in corporate America, Desroches acknowledges there are a lot of areas where the U.S. needs to get better, but his success story "is only possible in this country."

"I don't know that any other country, you'd have somebody who came to this country, at a young age from somewhere else, and elevates to a position like this. And there are stories like that. And what I would tell somebody coming up is, 'If you believe in yourself, and you have resolve, and you come in every day, and try to get better, there are enormous possibilities, and especially in this country,'" Desroches added.

Julia La Roche is a correspondent for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

See Also: THE NEXT: 21 to watch in 2021

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