The same day the activist fund Elliott Investment Management reiterated a call for his ouster, Crown Castle announced that CEO Jay Brown will retire, effective January 16.
The company said Brown informed the board on Wednesday, December 6, of his decision to leave.
Crown Castle appointed board member Anthony Melone to serve as an interim CEO.
Melone served in various positions at Verizon Wireless, including CTO, from 2000 through December 2010. He has more than three decades of telecom experience and was the CTO and EVP for Verizon Communications from December 2010 to April 2015.
Crown Castle said it will conduct a search process to identify a permanent CEO.
Brown joined Crown Castle nearly 25 years ago and served as CFO and treasurer before being named president and CEO in June 2016.
“It has been a privilege to lead this outstanding company and be a part of its growth and success for over two decades,” Brown said in a statement. “I’m confident the company’s future is bright as its world-class team continues the critical work to connect people, communities and businesses with each other and to the data, technology and wireless services they rely on every day.”
History of criticism
In 2020, Elliott launched an attack against Crown Castle, saying the tower company needed a makeover of its fiber strategy. At that time, Elliott owned an economic interest worth $1 billion of Crown Castle and described its campaign as “Reclaiming the Crown.”
On November 27, 2023, Elliott launched a new campaign, called “Restoring the Castle,” and called for new leadership and improvements to its fiber strategy. That was followed up with another call for change on December 7, the same day Crown later announced Brown’s departure.
Elliott, which now manages funds that collectively have an investment of about $2 billion in Crown Castle, told Crown’s board that feedback from investors, analysts and current and former employees was “overwhelmingly supportive” of the changes it was advocating this time around.
In the week following the release of the materials, Crown Castle’s stock appreciated by 14.5%, Elliott said. “More importantly, Crown Castle outperformed its direct peers – American Tower and SBA Communications – by 8.4% , which stands as the largest week of outperformance for Crown Castle in the last decade,” Elliott said in its December 7 letter to the board.
If the current board was unwilling to change the leadership of the company, “we will nominate a new board that will. And based on the feedback we have received, we are confident that shareholders will choose a board with a greater commitment to shareholder stewardship and best-in-class governance,” Elliott told the board before Brown's departure was announced.