Robert E. Allen, who as chief executive and chairman of AT&T for almost a decade presided over major reorganizations of the company as the telecommunications industry remade itself in the late 1980s and ’90s, died on Saturday September 10 2016 in Chatham, N.J. He was 81.
His son Jay said the cause was complications of a stroke that Mr. Allen had in January.
Mr. Allen had a 40-year career with AT&T, beginning straight out of college in 1957 managing telephone operators at Indiana Bell. He reached the top post after the death of James E. Olson in 1988.
Robert Eugene Allen was born on Jan. 25, 1935, in Joplin, Mo., the only child of Walter and Louise Allen. His father owned a children’s clothing store, and his mother was a teacher.
He grew up mainly in New Castle, Ind., where he began delivering newspapers at age 8 and held several other jobs, including work as a mechanic, lifeguard and carpenter’s assistant. In another job, on a farm, he would pass along rows of corn, snapping off the spiky tassels that emerge while the corn is growing.
He attended Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., to study political science and economics. While there, he married Elizabeth Pfeffer, known as Betty. They spent his senior year living on campus in an area of Quonset hut-style structures that had been built during World War II. She survives him.
After graduation, he joined a management-training program at Indiana Bell and began climbing the corporate ladder. By 1972, he had become vice president and board secretary.
Besides his wife and son Jay, Mr. Allen is survived by his daughters, Katherine Allen, Ann Allen and Amy Allen; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Another son, Daniel, died last year.