AT&T greets Biden era by hiring Clinton’s FCC boss as chair

AT&T greets Biden era by hiring Clinton’s FCC boss as company chairman

09 November 2020 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Former FCC chairman William Kennard is to become the next chairman of AT&T, taking office in January just before Joe Biden becomes 46th US president.

AT&T announced the appointment on Friday afternoon US time, just a day before Biden achieved a majority of the electoral college places in the 2020 US presidential election.

Outgoing president Donald Trump disliked AT&T intensely. In 2018 his administration’s Department of Justice (DoJ) repeatedly tried to block AT&T’s $60 billion acquisition of TimeWarner – now WarnerMedia – despite losing a number of cases in the courts.

WarnerMedia owns news channel CNN, seen by many as taking a far less pro-Trump stance than Fox News.

In April 2020, on the announcement that Stephenson was stepping down, Trump tweeted: “Great News! Randall Stephenson, the CEO of heavily indebted AT&T, which owns and presides over Fake News @CNN, is leaving, or was forced out. Anyone who lets a garbage ‘network’ do and say the things that CNN does, should leave ASAP. Hopefully replacement will be much better!”

Trump is unlikely to be amused that Kennard (pictured) has impeccable connections with former Democratic Party presidents. Bill Clinton made him chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1997 – the first African American to hold the role – and he served until the inauguration of George W Bush, a Republican, in 2001.

And then Barack Obama, another Democrat, made Kennard the US ambassador to the European Union after his inauguration in 2009. He served four years in Brussels.

Kennard takes the chairmanship at AT&T on the final retirement of Stephenson, who was chairman and CEO until John Stankey succeeded as CEO in July 2020. Stephenson then became executive chairman. Kennard’s appointment continues the split at AT&T between chairman and CEO, relatively rare in US corporate life.

AT&T noted that Kennard has also held positions with the Carlyle Group, a global asset management firm, at which he led investments in the telecommunications and media sectors, and the law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, now DLA Piper, where he was a partner and member of the board of directors.

“Bill’s deep knowledge of communications, media and technology, proven leadership and broad experience across capital markets and government uniquely positions him to serve as AT&T’s new chairman,” Stephenson said. “He is an outstanding choice to lead our board of talented directors who possess diverse expertise and experience.”

Kennard said: “I look forward to working with our CEO and fellow board member John Stankey and the entire board to continue creating long-term value for all stakeholders – investors, customers, employees and the communities we serve.”

He has been a member of AT&T’s board of directors since 2014.