Seidenberg Taking Over at Verizon

The CEO will soon be chairman as well, as Chuck Lee takes an early retirement.
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(VZ) - Get Report

said Thursday that its nonexecutive chairman and former co-chief, Charles Lee, will retire early.

The move came at a Verizon board meeting, and it consolidates CEO Ivan Seidenberg's control over the New York telecom giant. Seidenberg, who will become chairman, and Lee oversaw the merger of Bell Atlantic with GTE in the late 1990s to form Verizon, now the nation's largest telco.

Following the merger, the two were co-CEOs until Lee relinquished his half of the arrangment in the spring of 2002. At the time, Lee indicated he would stay on as chairman through June of 2004.

Seidenberg, the Bell Atlantic veteran, has since run the company, but Lee received some lavish perks for his role in running the big telco's board and serving as a consultant. Verizon said Thursday that Lee has eight months left in the consulting arrangement.

As detailed in a story

this spring in

, Lee ranked as the highest-paid telecom executive last year, raking in $15.6 million in total compensation, according to federal filings and Multex. That dwarfed the $9.5 million Seidenberg pulled down.

On Thursday, Verizon said Lee would depart at year-end as the company's integration efforts continue to move along.

"Accelerating this transition underscores my confidence in both the company and Ivan's leadership," Lee said. "As I move to new challenges apart from Verizon, I know I leave the company in the very capable and experienced hands of Ivan and our other strong, experienced directors."

Verizon continues to be strongly profitable, but its growth has flattened out and the company remains under a heavy if slightly receding debt burden. The company is also confronting an eroding local phone business and a booming wireless side.

Seidenberg's taking the CEO and chairman titles is unusual, coming at a time when corporate governance gadflies are increasingly calling for the separation of those roles. The issue of board independence has become a key one on Wall Street in the wake of the last two years' scandals.

On Thursday, Verizon fell 44 cents to $32.45.