Verizon names tech chief as CEO, putting network over content

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(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) named chief technology officer Hans Vestberg as its new CEO beginning Aug. 1, surprising analysts and signaling the company’s priority is building the next-generation 5G wireless network, not expanding into media content.

FILE PHOTO – Hans Vestberg, Verizon executive vice president and president of Global Networks and Chief Technology Officer, speaks during a panel discussion on 5G wireless broadband technology during the 2018 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Some analysts had expected John Stratton, Verizon’s president of global operations, to succeed current Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam, who said he will retire. Analysts at Wells Fargo said in a research note the appointment of an executive with more of an equipment background was “very telling.”

Vestberg said in an interview the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier would keep pursuing its current 5G strategy but he did not “see anything new on the horizon” to pursue media content.

Vestberg, 52, joined Verizon a year ago after being fired in an investor-driven shakeup at Ericsson (ERICb.ST)(ERIC.O) in 2016, following years of dismal growth and weak earnings. He was CEO of the Swedish company, one of the world’s largest equipment suppliers to the telecommunications industry, for six years.

Analysts had speculated whether Verizon will acquire a content company as rival AT&T Inc (T.N) awaits a court decision on whether it can proceed with its plan to buy media company Time Warner Inc (TWX.N).

At Verizon, Vestberg has led a team building out its fiber network infrastructure and was overseeing the build-out of 5G network in the United States.

“It’s a perfect time to hand over to someone of his caliber,” McAdam, 64 said in an interview. McAdam plans to retire at the end of the year. He will serve as executive chairman until then and then become non-executive chairman, the company said in a statement.

Verizon has gained about 40 percent of its $202.5 billion market value since McAdam took charge of the company on Aug. 1, 2011.

The company’s shares were down marginally at $48.75 in morning trading, on a day when a number of chipmakers and major technology stocks fell on reports Apple (AAPL.O) expects to cut iPhone production this year.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru and Sheila Dang in New York; editing by Patrick Graham

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