Onboarding Gone Wrong with $100 BN at Stake

Businesses develop cultures and it shocks me when this is lost on executives. In 2018, AT&T’s $100 billion takeover of Time Warner was finally approved. As part of the transaction, AT&T’s COO John Stankey assumed the role of CEO of Warner Media.

Soon after the transaction closed, Stankey requested a meeting with his new top Warner Media executives. They were greeted with a typed memo that ran two pages, single-spaced in length titled “Operating Cadence and Style” and asked to read it in silence.

Per an article in the NYT, the “silence stretched for what seemed an excruciating length.” The document detailed how the executives should interact with their new boss, and it was a significant departure from Time Warner’s previous chief executive Jeff Bewkes approach, which welcomed emailing, texting or calling openly. I found the details included in the article fascinating.

Among Mr. Stankey’s dictates: 30 minutes was the “default” length for meetings, Saturdays were reserved for “quality time” with his family, and he expected to be home for dinner by 6:30 or 7. “My routine is important to me,” Mr. Stankey wrote.

Although “I really, really don’t like formal presentations and PowerPoint, I do like brief bullet outlines and references to working documents,” he elaborated. “I prefer to reserve more formal slide decks for moments of seminal importance. I will invest to get messages right and articulated when it counts and has the opportunity to move an issue of significance.”

Few details were overlooked: “Digital documents are preferred,” Mr. Stankey wrote, “with PDF format the minimum standard.”

Curiously, given their presence in a 12th-floor conference room, he added: “I’m not a big fan of meetings. A good meeting is purposeful, has a small number of responsible participants and closes with decisions being made.

“When everyone finished reading, Mr. Stankey asked if he had made himself clear. No one said anything. But afterward, there was a flurry of profanity-laced texts.

Less than four years later all of the top executives had been replaced, and even John Stankey chose to leave. AT&T abandoned the initiative and spun off its Warner Media assets and turned management control over to Discovery. AT&T’s 71% stake in this new entity was valued at less than $20 billion, which amounted to a loss of approximately $47 billion based on the valuation of the deal when it was announced.

The memo is hardly the sole reason for such a failure, but I wonder what would have been possible if leadership had made an effort to better accommodate Time Warner’s culture. Per the article, “In the eyes of former Time Warner executives, a vibrant culture of creative energy and success nurtured over decades was destroyed in months.”

Click on the link below for a great read with more details.

leadership mergers and acquisitions
Source: James B. Stewart | "How Did AT&T’s $100 Billion Time Warner Deal Go So Wrong?" | The New York Times | 11/19/2022 | Visit