Usually, the CEOs of the Fortune 500 businesses do not make any political or cultural statements, but the Chairman and CEO of AT&T, one of the best internet providers in the US, is different. Randall Stephenson turned many heads last year when he urged his employees to take part in conversations about race to understand each other in a better way as human beings. The 12-minute speech of Stephenson went viral as an AT&T employee uploaded the same to YouTube.
Stephenson was recently honored by the UJA-Federation with their Steven J. Ross Humanitarian Award for those words and the many other actions that AT&T has taken to make a social connection with its employees. The award ceremony that was conducted at Cipriani 25 Broadway brought in about 2.5 million dollars for the many charitable activities of the organization.
The presence of many media CEOs was the proof and testament that AT&T is growing in prominence as the best internet service in the telecom industry, as they are awaiting approval for the 85.4 billion dollars merger with Time Warner. Conan O’Brien was the host of the ceremony, and it included a four-song set by the Zac Brown Band.
Peter Chernin, whose business has a joint venture with the AT&T, said that Stephenson is “one of the most caring, honest and decent men I have ever met.” He also said, taking into consideration the gentle background of Stephenson, that “not since Menachem Begin shook hands with Anwar Sadat have Jews reached so far into a different culture to embrace the greater good.”
In a 20-minute question and answer session with the Time Warner chairman and CEO, Jeff Bewkes, Stephenson explained his statement that “tolerance is for cowards.” He made the statement because of the incidents of racially charged police shootings. “I’m not suggesting we have fixed racial tension,” Stephenson said. “But within our circle at AT&T it is wide open — and not just about race. There are folks in the LGBT community, Latino groups — we’re having those conversations and it’s amazing what’s been transpiring.” Stephenson also spoke about broader social concerns and explained on “what’s good for AT&T is good for America.”
“What is in the interest of AT&T is a good, healthy, prosperous, growing economy. What a company like AT&T really needs is a good, prosperous, growing middle class,” Stephenson said. “What are the things that are fundamental for having that kind of environment? It starts with things like a good, civil, peaceful environment (and) the rule of law. When you think about racial tension, it’s hard for people to feel secure and wanting to engage in commerce when they’re very insecure about things such as race and racial tension. Those are issues that I think we CEOs should speak out about. If there are remedies, things that can make them better, we ought to press for those things.”