AT&T Board Lets CEO off the Hook for a Bad Call

Agenda-Setting Financial Insight.
Feb. 22 2012 2:48 PM

AT&T Board Lets CEO off the Hook for a Bad Call

115741641
CEO of AT&T Randall Stephenson attends a news conference on June 9, 2011 in New York City.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

AT&T’s board has let its chief executive off the hook for his bad call. Randall Stephenson’s total compensation fell to $22 million last year from just over $27 million in 2010. That’s a light slap for the badly botched bid to buy T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom. AT&T had to take a $4 billion charge for the break fee related to the deal’s collapse. Though complicit directors factored the monetary costs into their decision, they didn’t hold Stephenson properly accountable for failure.

The T-Mobile takeover plan scrapped by regulators unquestionably took its toll. In 2010, AT&T’s free cash flow was atop its target range and earnings per share surpassed it. Last year, free cash flow settled back into the middle of its range while EPS barely scraped the bottom. Even had the T-Mobile costs been excluded, earnings would have fallen short of target. And while on a longer, three-year horizon, AT&T’s total shareholder return of 9 percent outperformed the broader market, it was near the bottom of its own self-described peer group. That all suggests T-Mobile proved a bigger distraction for AT&T management than even the hefty immediate costs imply.

Advertisement

AT&T tried to blame Washington for the torpedoed deal – and it may even have a point where tight spectrum rules are concerned. But shareholders shouldn’t get too distracted by that excuse. Stephenson and the company’s directors led AT&T into antitrust battle without sufficient ammunition. With say-on-pay on the ballot at this year’s annual shareholder meeting, investors can show their displeasure about the repercussions for that decision – and should.

Read more at Reuters Breakingviews.

Jeffrey Goldfarb is a New York-based assistant editor with a focus on Wall Street, private equity, M&A and the media industry. Before becoming a columnist, Jeffrey wrote about banking, deals, international trade, healthcare and the Internet.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.