John Stankey, the CEO of AT&T, signaled that he was likely done with deals after he essentially unwound the mega-merger of the telecom company with Time Warner.
“To be relevant in markets today, you need to be really good,” Stankey told Semafor’s Gina Chon at the Igniting Innovation: America’s Digital Future event on Tuesday.
“There is no place in our society right now for mediocrity,” Stankey said.
Stankey helped lead AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV and TimeWarner in 2015 and 2018, and was the former CEO of WarnerMedia, before transitioning to the role of leading AT&T in 2020.
Under AT&T’s ownership, WarnerMedia launched HBOMax which exceeded expectations by attracting 74 million subscribers. But debt coupled with regulatory delays and accusations of management mistakes doomed the once much-touted acquisition. In 2022, AT&T announced it was focusing on building out its wireless networks and would depart from media and entertainment, spinning off WarnerMedia and combining it with Discovery.
Reflecting on AT&T’s failed foray into media, Stankey said, “I stepped away and said look, I understand what is needed in media to be really good but with the fundamental changes that are going on in the industry and the amount of investment needed to be a capable distributor of content...I understand what’s necessary to build world-class communication networks, I know the investments required to do two of those. I can’t do both.”
Stankey signaled that AT&T would not pivot away from its core business because to do that “you have to be an expert.”
“I didn’t see a business could do those things if it was splitting its time,” he said.