Verizon's Media Chief and Top-Ranking Woman Plans to Leave

Updated on
  • Walden is said to make decision upon learning she won’t be CEO
  • Stratton, Vestberg are said still contending to succeed McAdam

Marni Walden

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Marni Walden, the head of Verizon Communications Inc.’s media venture, plans to step down at the end of the year after learning she is unlikely to become the next CEO, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Walden, 50, will move into a strategic adviser role starting Dec. 31 and will leave at the end of February, according to a statement Wednesday.

Marni Walden

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

The Wyoming native was a rising star at a largely male-run phone company, and one of the top officers under Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam. With Walden’s departure, John Stratton, the head of operations, and Hans Vestberg, the network and technology chief, are the front-runners to succeed McAdam, 63, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Verizon has never had a female CEO.

“There might be some succession planning to it, but I think her interests are probably a much better fit in the tech world,” said Jennifer Fritzsche, an analyst with Wells Fargo. “I think she’ll find some great opportunities there.”

Walden led Verizon’s connected car and telematics division as well as the company’s foray into online video, called go90. She negotiated a $350 million price cut for the purchase of Yahoo! Inc.’s internet assets after extensive security breaches were revealed. With the addition of Yahoo, Walden and Tim Armstrong, CEO of Verizon’s AOL unit, created Oath, the company’s media and advertising group.

‘Role Model’

“Marni helped build our wireless business, starting as a sales representative in a store, and grew into an inspirational leader and role model for so many at Verizon,” McAdam said in the statement.

Under Walden, Verizon’s new media revenue grew from zero to $7 billion in annual sales. Go90, though, has failed to garner much buzz in a crowded landscape for online video. Walden’s departure wasn’t related to Yahoo’s disclosure this week that all of its users were potentially exposed to a 2013 security breach, said the person familiar with the matter.

Walden declined to comment.

The departure isn’t a total surprise, given Verizon’s struggle to find significant growth in new businesses, said Jeff Kvaal, an analyst with Instinet LLC. Walden had been “pushing the rock up the hill in recent years,” Kvaal wrote. After Yahoo is integrated, some reorganization “at the top” is likely to follow, wrote in a note Thursday.

Kvaal wrote he doesn’t consider a CEO move to be imminent.

Armstrong will take over Walden’s duties as head of media at the beginning of next year, the person said. Stratton will take on the connected car and telematics businesses.

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