Ending a distinguished 44-year career during which he built the smallest of the regional Bell operating companies into the largest and most powerful telecommunications company in the U.S., AT&T Chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. confirmed plans to retire effective on June 3. In 1963, Whitacre joined Southwestern Bell (at that time a unit of the old AT&T monopoly) as a facilities engineer. After rising to the rank of CEO at SBC Communications—the smallest of the seven “Baby Bells” to be carved out of the post-divestiture AT&T— Whitacre pursued an aggressive acquisition strategy that was highlighted in 2005 by the $82 billion purchase of SBC’s former parent AT&T Corp. and that was capped with last year’s merger with BellSouth. As a result, Whitacre leaves as his legacy a telecommunications industry colossus with a $240 billion market capitalization that is more than double the size of its nearest competitor, Verizon Communications. Under Whitacre’s leadership, the new AT&T Inc. has amassed 66.5 million land-based phone lines and 12 million broadband lines and boasts the largest wireless network in the U.S. with 61 million subscribers. AT&T COO Randall Stephenson, a 25-year company veteran, has been selected as Whitacre’s replacement. Described by analysts as “very well thought of,” Stephenson has proven a central figure in the development of U-Verse, AT&T’s new IP-based video system that, in tandem with Verizon’s FiOS network, competes against cable and satellite television services.

Vowing to build upon the foundation laid by Whitacre, Stephenson asserted that the success of U-Verse is “absolutely critical” as he proclaimed, “our task is laid before us.”