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AT&T Vice Chairman Ralph de la Vega to retire December 31

Thaddeus Arroyo, head of AT&T Mexico, will replace him after de la Vega retires at the end of the year.

Ralph de la Vega

Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T Mobility, speaking at the company's investor conference in New York City in November 2012.

Marguerite Reardon/CNET

AT&T Vice Chairman Ralph de la Vega, who had a key role in bringing the iPhone to market, will retire at the end of the year.

Thaddeus Arroyo, 53, the CEO of AT&T Mexico, will take on 65-year-old de la Vega's responsibilities as the head of international and business operations, according to a person familiar with the situation. AT&T confirmed the move.

As a result of Arroyo's move, Kelly King, senior vice president of AT&T's business group, will take over as head of the Mexico business.

The retirement caps a 42-year career through AT&T's many incarnations. As the chief operating officer of Cingular Wireless, de la Vega led the integration of that business with AT&T Wireless. He also served as president of BellSouth Latin America.

But his most notable act at AT&T was working with Steve Jobs to bring the original iPhone to the carrier, eventually locking it up as an exclusive device for years. He was one of the first people to see the iPhone, vowing not to tell anyone about the device, including the CEO or the directors of AT&T -- or his wife.

"[The iPhone] dramatically changed how users interfaced with the device," de la Vega said in an interview earlier this year. "It really highlights how it changes the expectations of people."

As the head of AT&T Mobility, he helped push the company from 3G wireless technology to 4G, which fundamentally changed how we use our phones today, enabling everything from mobile games to Facebook Live video feeds. He was also the face of numerous device launch events, as he showed support for everything from the Amazon Fire Phone to AT&T's partnership with Microsoft and Nokia on Windows Phones.

In Feburary, AT&T shuffled its executive ranks to move de la Vega from mobile to the business and international operations. John Stankey, who previously ran AT&T's DirecTV, internet and U-Verse TV units, took over the mobile operations.