John Stankey. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York

John Stankey will become CEO of AT&T when current CEO Randall Stephenson retires on July 1st, the company announced Friday at its annual shareholder meeting.

Why it matters: Stankey is currently AT&T's COO, and a bitter shareholder battle last year threatened his shot at the top job.

  • AT&T eventually struck a deal with that activist shareholder, hedge fund Elliott Management, and Elliott now says it "supports" Stankey now as the company's next CEO, per CNBC.

In a statement, AT&T says that Stankey's selection "completes the final phase of a succession planning process that AT&T's board began in 2017, which included a thorough evaluation of internal and external candidates."

  • The company says that its human resources committee recently engaged in an extensive five-month search process.

The big picture: Stankey is a 30+-year AT&T veteran. He helped lead the company through its successful acquisition of Time Warner, and eventually became the CEO of the company under its new monicker, WarnerMedia. AT&T named former Hulu exec Jason Kilar the CEO of WarnerMedia two weeks ago, foreshadowing a change.

  • Stankey had previously run AT&T's entertainment group, and served as the CEO of AT&T Operations and Business Solutions.

Between the lines: Stephenson's succession plan, which the company says has been in place since 2017, was unclear given the pressure from Elliott to bring in a CEO with media experience, not just telecom experience.

  • AT&T bought Time Warner in 2018 for $85 billion. Elliott had been critical of AT&T's acquisition of the media company, and some of its other major acquisitions, like DirecTV.
  • Stephenson said earlier this year he would remain with the company through at least the end of 2020. In the announcement Friday, the company said he would remain executive chairman of the board until January 2021.

Go deeper: AT&T signals ceasefire with activist investor

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