AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s total compensation was more than $32 million in 2019, giving him a 10 percent raise while he slashed tens of thousands of jobs and reduced spending on network upgrades. Stephenson’s total compensation was $28.72 million in 2017, $29.12 million in 2018, and $32.03 million in 2019, an AT&T filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission said. His pay raise was driven by stock performance.
Stephenson’s base salary was $1.8 million in all three years, but his stock awards jumped from $17.07 million to $19.80 million from 2018 to 2019. The other portions of his compensation remained roughly the same.
While Stephenson’s pay rose, AT&T eliminated 7.6 percent of its workforce in 2019. AT&T had 247,800 employees at the end of 2019, down from 268,220 one year earlier. AT&T also slashed capital expenditures by more than $1.6 billion in 2019 and projects a capital-investment cut of more than $3 billion in 2020. The cuts to jobs and network spending came despite AT&T claiming that a corporate tax cut and repeal of net neutrality rules would cause broadband investment to rise. Some of these cuts came from the company’s wireline division after AT&T finished a fiber buildout.
Last week, AT&T said it plans tens of billions of dollars worth of cost cuts, including job cuts, over the next three years.
CEO pay rose after hedge fund battle
But Stephenson’s 2019 compensation rose “after a headline-grabbing hedge fund battle ended up boosting the telecom and media giant’s share price,” The Wall Street Journal reported today. The 10 percent increase came “almost entirely on the strength of AT&T’s stock appreciation,” as AT&T shares rose about 37 percent during 2019, the Journal article said.
The hedge fund battle pitted AT&T against Elliott Management Corp., which had a $3.2 billion stake in the company. Elliott criticized AT&T’s TV strategy, urged the company to consider divesting DirecTV, and pushed for other changes. AT&T and Elliott struck a deal in October that did not involve selling DirecTV. But AT&T promised to conduct a “disciplined review” of its portfolio and said it will make “no major acquisitions” over the next three years.
Other top AT&T executives also got pay raises in 2019. President and COO John Stankey’s pay rose from $16.55 million in 2018 to $22.47 million in 2019. “Former telecom division chief John Donovan’s 2019 compensation jumped [from $14.59 million] to $27 million, including nearly $10 million in other pay that included a retirement bonus,” The Wall Street Journal wrote. “Mr. Donovan ran the lion’s share of AT&T’s operations until his abrupt departure in August.”
AT&T has been trying to reduce its debt load, which was $163.1 billion total and $151.3 billion in long-term debt at the end of 2019. Stephenson might not get another pay increase this year given the turmoil in stock markets that has sent AT&T tumbling in recent days. Stephenson is nearing retirement, but AT&T has said he will remain in the top role through all of 2020.