NEW YORK: After yesterday's public trashing by AT&T of outgoing president John Walters, TIME's Daniel Kadlec says the company's normally patient investors are growing restless. "CEO Bob Allen can't decide whether he's going to retire or stay. He can't decide on a successor. He has big merger plans (with Bell company SBC Communications), which the government won't let him carry out. Now he's coming out and saying, 'The guy I picked isn't smart enough for the job.' There's lots of room for investors to wonder whether this company will get back on track." Some of that wondering showed in AT&T's closing stock price: down 1 5/16 to $35. What AT&T needs, says Kadlec, is a discernible plan. "They have to declare whether they're getting into the local services competition or not. MCI has gotten together with British Telecom, but AT&T just doesn't seem to have a business strategy." Allen has said he's open to offers of a partnership with GTE, the largest U.S. local phone company, or a Baby Bell. For now, the company is on a recruiting binge, trawling through corporate America for the talent that seems to be lacking within its walls. But as Walters can attest, hiring hot shots doesn't work if you keep throwing 'em back.