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Verizon’s New CEO Not Likely to Join M&A Frenzy



Bloomberg
Sunday, June 10, 2018

Verizon Communications Inc. named Hans Vestberg as its next chief executive officer, picking a leader who plans to stay the course even as all three of the company’s major wireless rivals are pursuing megadeals.

The move will take effect Aug. 1, ending months of speculation over who takes over at the largest U.S. wireless carrier in the midst of a tumultuous year. Vestberg, 52, is succeeding longtime chief Lowell McAdam, who is less than a year from his 65th birthday.

Vestberg has been running Verizon’s newly formed network and technology unit, and his promotion is a sign of the direction the company is headed. The carrier plans to focus on improving its network in coming years, rather than trying to outdo competitors with blockbuster deals.

“I’m happy with executing the plans we have already laid out,” Vestberg said in response to an interview question about M&A prospects. “We are constantly evaluating things, but there’s nothing that we are looking at right now.”

The industry is racing to upgrade networks to a new standard known as 5G, which will offer faster speeds and the potential for new services and technologies.

Under McAdam, Verizon added online content from Yahoo and AOL. But its rivals have been pursuing more dramatic acquisitions. AT&T is fighting to win antitrust approval for its $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, a deal that would give it a global source of entertainment and news content.

T-Mobile US and Sprint, meanwhile, agreed to a $26.5 billion merger that would combine the No. 3 and No. 4 wireless carriers in the U.S.

Against that backdrop, McAdam had signaled that Verizon probably wasn’t going to take a similar tack. Though there’s been speculation that the company could buy Charter Communications – the second-largest cable company – he told investors in September that Verizon had “moved on” from pursuing any deals.

The CEO announcement didn’t do much to jar Verizon investors. Verizon shares were little changed as of 10 a.m. on Friday in New York. McAdam will serve as executive chairman through his retirement at the end of the year, at which time he will become nonexecutive chairman.

“If M&A drives your strategy you aren’t an effective leader,” McAdam said in an interview Friday. “Everyone wants to talk about who we buy next, but we aren’t going to be tricked into doing something stupid just to play in a game driven by ego.”

Still, the situation could change, especially with so much turmoil in the industry. The industry is waiting anxiously for a decision in AT&T’s Time Warner case, which is coming next week. A new CEO also will likely have a fresh approach, said Walt Piecyk, an analyst with BTIG.

“As Lowell approached the retirement age, it seemed less and less likely that he was willing to take on a large acquisition as he was about to exit the company,” he said. “The timing of the change could be good as the court decision on AT&T’s Time Warner deal comes next week. It could spur a new wave of M&A activity that is likely best conducted by the next CEO.”

Vestberg, the former CEO of Ericsson, joined Verizon a little more than a year ago, bringing vital network experience.

At the time, he also took a seat on a three-member management team alongside Marni Walden, the then media chief, and John Stratton, in charge of customer and product operations.

Both were contenders to succeed McAdam, but Walden resigned.