Business & Tech

AT&T CEO prepares for battle over merger

Boston -02/15/18 Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T spoke at the Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon at the Boston Harbor Hotel. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff(business)
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, spoke at the Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Thursday.

Randall Stephenson’s “elephant in the room” takes on new meaning now.

Speaking to the Boston College Chief Executives Club on Thursday, the AT&T chief executive offered color and context about the fight of his professional life — AT&T’s Time Warner acquisition. The fate of the proposed deal likely will be decided by a trial due to start March 19, as Stephenson’s team faces off against the US Department of Justice in a widely watched antitrust case.

Stephenson’s Boston visit coincided with news reports that the Dallas-based company took the unusual step of putting DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim on its witness list. Delrahim, a noted antitrust expert, declared in a 2016 TV interview that he didn’t see any major antitrust problems with the AT&T-Time Warner merger. That was before the Trump administration tapped him for the DOJ job. Now, he leads the charge against the merger.


In Boston, Stephenson described Delrahim’s shift and President Trump’s antipathy toward Time Warner-owned CNN as “an elephant in the room, and it’s probably going to have to be dealt with in that context.”

Fidelity Investments chief executive Abby Johnson, who shared the stage with Stephenson during the event at the Boston Harbor Hotel, said she had never heard of somebody talking about going to court with a smile on their face. But it was clear from his demeanor Stephenson is confident about the case, which he jokingly called “a little speed bump.” More seriously, he also noted that no one has successfully challenged this kind of merger deal in 50 years.

Jon Chesto can be reached at