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AT&T Elevates John Stankey to President, Next in Line to CEO

Scott Moritz

(Bloomberg) -- AT&T Inc. named media chief John Stankey to the new position of president and chief operating officer, establishing a clear No. 2 to Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson.

The company also said that technology chief Jeff McElfresh, 48, will become CEO of AT&T Communications, filling a post vacated last week when John Donovan abruptly stepped down.

With the $85 billion purchase of Time Warner last year, AT&T effectively created two No. 2 executives under Stephenson: Stankey led the media businesses, while Donovan oversaw the phone and technology divisions. While Stankey will continue to oversee WarnerMedia, that arrangement gets eliminated with the changes announced Tuesday.

McElfresh, a 25-year AT&T veteran, will lead the company’s largest business as head of the communications division. But he’ll report to Stankey, 56, as will the executives who lead WarnerMedia and Brian Lesser, head of the Xandr advertising business.

“Stankey assuming the COO duties at AT&T, and retaining his CEO role at WarnerMedia is a clear re-endorsement of the company’s overall strategy to become a dominant player converged telecom, media and entertainment,” said Kevin Roe, an analyst with Roe Equity Research LLC.

For the past year, Stankey has overseen the integration of Time Warner, and during that time he replaced all of the original division heads, including executives at HBO, Turner and Warner Bros.

AT&T has a long tradition of picking insiders to take top executive positions, and the latest changes fit that pattern.

But some analysts and former executives had expected the company to elevate a woman after Donovan’s surprise departure. They cited at least two female candidates for Donovan’s old job, noting the opportunity to put a woman in the No. 2 spot for the first time in AT&T’s 134-year history. Instead, the carrier turned to two men to fill the roles.

AT&T shares were little changed at $35.28 at 12:06 p.m. Tuesday.

(Updates with analysts’ comment in fifth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Moritz in New York at smoritz6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net, Rob Golum

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