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Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg on leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic

Verizon (VZ) CEO Hans Vestberg said his company’s mission during the coronavirus pandemic is to keep its employees safe and healthy, but also to ensure that its networks are up and running for the hundreds of millions of customers who rely on its services.

“There’s no playbook. I mean, it's not like a bank crisis or a telecom crisis or something that I've experienced before. This is a crisis on health,” Vestberg told Yahoo Finance at its virtual All Markets Summit. “My leadership philosophy is just accentuated in a crisis like this.”

Vestberg became CEO of Verizon two years ago, after serving as the company’s chief technology officer overseeing its 5G efforts.

“We need to have transparency and communication in these times,” he said. Throughout the pandemic, Verizon has hosted a daily live webcast for employees to ask questions and stay connected. “We have days where more than a hundred thousand employees tune in,” he added.

Unlike dozens of Fortune 500 companies, Verizon has not laid off any of its 135,000 employees during the pandemic. Rather than make cuts when stores were temporarily closed, Verizon committed to retraining nearly 20,000 workers for other roles within the company.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 08:  Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg delivers a keynote address at CES 2019 at The Venetian Las Vegas on January 8, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs through January 11 and features about 4,500 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to more than 180,000 attendees.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg delivers a keynote address at CES 2019 at The Venetian Las Vegas on January 8, 2019 (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The pandemic has also only amplified the need for high speed 5G coverage. With millions of people now working and learning from home, the importance of connectivity has arguably never been more important.

It’s early in the race for 5G, but Verizon looked to distance itself from the crowd this month when Vestberg shared the stage with Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook to announce the nationwide rollout of 5G at the virtual iPhone 12 event.

Declaring that “5G just got real,” Vestberg also announced that Verizon planned to have Ultra Wideband in 60 U.S. cities by the end of the year.

The telecom giant recently upgraded its profit target for the year as its wireless and broadband business stabilized in the third quarter, despite the effects of the pandemic.

Vestberg also committed to keeping customers connected during this unprecedented economic downturn.

“We decided we're not going to disconnect anyone, any consumer or small or medium businesses because of non-payment. And we are working with all of them in order for them to see that they can continue to refinance. And we even have taken away charges giving them more data. Those were important decisions,” Vestberg said.

Roughly 90% of Verizon’s 1.2 million customers who signed up for bill relief had made some payment by the end of September, and more than half were paid in full.

Vestberg said history will judge Corporate America by how it responds to the pandemic.

“These are unprecedented times and our employees are going to remember this time, our customers are going to remember, and clearly our shareholders will remember,” Vestberg said.

Verizon is the parent company of Yahoo Finance.

Alexis Christoforous is co-host of Yahoo Finance’s “The First Trade.” Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.

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