AT&T: Stephenson Makes Exit Plan Known, Activist Investor Pounces And Lodges Proxy Fight

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And we in golf just want to know what will happen to one of the best corporate partners in the game.

The Wall Street Journal’s Drew FitzGerald, Shalini Ramachandran and Corrie Driebusch lay out in fascinating detail how AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson signaled his forthcoming exit and set off an activist investor proxy by Jesse Cohn of Elliott Management. The battle for AT&T is sure to have ramifications for golf down the road and more immediately, upcoming PGA Tour television contract negotiations where the company is reportedly prepared to offer a new golf-only channel.

The next day, Elliott Management issued a 23-page report that publicly questioned the logic of AT&T’s $49 billion takeover of DirecTV in 2015, shortly before cord-cutting accelerated, and its $81 billion deal last year to buy Time Warner, home of HBO and Warner Bros, only to replace almost all of its experienced entertainment bosses.

Elliott’s report Monday also questioned whether Mr. Stephenson’s presumed successor could successfully integrate the conglomerate into a force able to compete for advertising dollars against the likes of Google and win a costly battle for streaming supremacy with rivals like Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co.

Plans for Mr. Stephenson’s triumphant exit, as early as next year, now threaten to turn into a monthslong fight over the direction of the $280 billion telecom company and a test of the board’s loyalty to his long-term vision.

The challenge issued by Elliott pits the 59-year-old AT&T chief executive against a 39-year-old Wall Street manager known for pressuring his targets to shake up their operations.

The letter does not question any of AT&T’s investment in golf, which includes sponsorship of two PGA Tour events and the Masters. So there’s that.