Even though John Stephens retired from Dallas-based AT&T in 2021, he wanted to stay active in the community after his long business career.
The former chief financial officer (CFO) agreed to serve as chairman of the 15-member Dallas Economic Development Corporation. The unpaid role adds to his voluntary duties on the board of Catholic Charities Dallas and the Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT), making him one of the City’s go-to specialists when it comes to job creation and fundraising.
“We love Dallas,” Stephens told The Dallas Express, referring to his family: his wife, Michelle, six children, and three grandchildren. “We have been here 15 years. We want to give back. And we like to get things done.”
“Serving crosses well with my business experience,” Stephens added. “The best way to strengthen the City is to invest in quality jobs for the people of Dallas. I want to see what I can do to make the City better because Dallas has been great to me.”
The 63-year-old Stephens previously was chairman of the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Dallas board of directors.
“There are a lot of great people working for these organizations who make our jobs as board members easier. I am really blessed to have their support. They have encouraged my participation.”
“It’s busy,” he continued. “But … I am used to being busy.”
The development corporation was established in late 2022 by the Dallas City Council as a separate legal entity, Stephens said. As reported by The Dallas Express, many of those appointed to the board have business or fundraising backgrounds.
“Its mission is to encourage investment and the growth of quality jobs in the City of Dallas,” Stephens said. “The City looked at what other cities have done to improve their communities, and one was to create an economic development corporation that can operate separately from the City.”
“We can market and promote the City. When necessary, we can represent ownership of some properties to facilitate investments and job creation. We can do more outreach to investors, businesses, and community partners. We have more flexibility than the City in doing that. We’re trying to develop opportunities to bring to the City.”
The group plans to work with City Manager T.C. Broadnax and Dallas Office of Economic Development Manager Robin Bentley toward economic growth “for all, for everybody.”
The board will meet four to six times per year, Stephens said, not including committee assignments.
“We will work closely with the City on methods to get our jobs done,” Stephens said. “Our meetings will be open for citizens to attend. We will have an open and transparent approach.”
Stephens left AT&T in 2020 after 28 years of service, the last nine as CFO. He worked one more year with the Fortune 500 company as a consultant. Stephens oversaw the company’s investments in his nine years as CFO.
“My role as CFO at AT&T, working with the rest of the AT&T leadership, was the most satisfying job I have ever had,” Stephens told The Dallas Express.
Stephens mentioned his role in creating a first-responder network with the federal government was his most rewarding and satisfying project with AT&T.
“It will save and protect lives,” Stephens said.
Stephens said customer service was next on his list. It always was on his mind in the ultra-competitive phone and communications business. Dozens of companies make phones and offer services.
“The ability to roll out the highest quality networks on broadband – the new information technology into the home – was dramatic,” Stephens said. “New innovations, such as 5G technology, made my job exciting and invigorating.”
As CFO, profitability was a top responsibility toward shareholders and employees. To stay competitive, AT&T needed to offer good salaries and benefits, Stephens said.
“I was part of a company that provided great health care for employees, profit sharing, and retirement benefits. We tried to do things the right way each and every day,” Stephens said.
When Stephens retired, AT&T CEO John Stankey lavished him with praise.
“I greatly appreciate John’s outstanding leadership, tireless dedication and many significant contributions to AT&T over the years,” Stankey said, per Business Wire.
“His financial expertise and strong commitment to our investors, employees and customers have been invaluable as we invested to become a leader in connectivity and content. He has helped us maintain the financial strength and flexibility needed to create long-term value for shareowners.”
Catholic Charities Dallas has benefitted from having Stephens and his wife as volunteers. The organization has a $35 million budget and serves more than 150,000 children, families, and senior citizens annually.
“John is a ‘doer’ in every sense of the word,” Catholic Charities Dallas President and CEO Dave Woodyard told The Dallas Express. “He is a man who gracefully lives his faith and gives of himself, knowing that we have a collective responsibility to our fellow man. I see John as a humbled servant to all those with which he interacts.”
“Working with him on a project is easy,” Woodyard said. “He truly wants to help. He has great ideas and is willing to roll up his sleeves as needed.”
Stephens has been on the Community Foundation of Texas board, which mobilizes philanthropy, for 18 months. He has worked frequently since his AT&T retirement with Senior Vice President Monica Christopher as a member of CFT’s investments and grant-making committees.
“John has corporate experience at the highest level,” Christopher told The Dallas Express. “I appreciate that he brings ideas and best practices as they relate to fiscal management, investment and technology.”
“The things I appreciate about John are that he always does his homework and he loves to learn,” she continued. “He gets things done, and he asks great questions.”
There’s no question where Stephens wants to spend the rest of his retirement. He said he has grown used to Dallas.
“It’s a great City, but I want to make it better for everybody,” Stephens said. “That’s why I am doing all of this. The can-do spirit of Big D is unique.”