When a shift is made in chief executives at American Telephone and Telegraph, company public relations men need do little more than change the names in official biographies. The last five of Ma Bell's chiefs came from relatively small towns, earned engineering degrees, worked for the company first as common laborers and spent decades climbing the executive rungs. Last week a 56-year-old V.M.I, engineering graduate from Greensboro, N.C., named John Dulany DeButts was appointed A.T. & T.'s new chairman. He replaces Haakon Ingolf Romnes, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65 in March.

DeButts inherits a corporation that is...

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