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James Crowe, who has seen Level 3 Communications Inc. through prosperous and tumultuous times, has told the company's board he plans to step down as CEO by the end of this year.
Level 3 did not say why Crowe intends 2013 to be his last year at the helm, but he has led the company since August 1997.
"For some time, the board and I have been considering CEO succession," Crowe said in a prepared statement. "Given the company's financial and operational strength, we have concluded that it is an appropriate time to begin the transition to new leadership with new perspectives. ... For my part, I stand ready to assist the board in assuring that the transition is successful and will offer my full support to my successor."
As a result, the Level 3 board has formed a new committee so it can start the search for a new CEO and oversee a transition plan. No timeline was announced.
"The board of directors is committed to ensuring that, through this process, we select the right CEO to follow Jim and to ensure that we capitalize on the extraordinary opportunities ahead," said Walter Scott Jr., Level 3's board chairman. "I want to thank Jim for his visionary leadership, for his dedication and for all that he has done to build Level from the ground up. It is no exaggeration to say that, without Jim, there would be no Level 3."
Crowe boasts a long resume in the telecom industry. Before his tenure at Level 3, he worked as chairman of WorldCom, following that company’s merger with MFS Communications Co. in 1996. Prior to that, he was chairman and CEO of MFS, a company he founded and took public in 1993. At the time of its $14.3 billion merger with WorldCom, MFS was the largest competitive local carrier in the United States and Europe.
As Level 3 CEO, Crowe has steered the provider through years of hit-and-miss quarterly profits as it navigated the telecom boom and bust, and struggled to integrate a number of acquired companies. The most recent round of earnings showed upticks, although Level 3 still missed Wall Street's projections. Crowe also has been on hand as Level 3 changed its partner program policies throughout the years. To that point, the company has just formed a Partner Advisory Council and launched its VAR initiative as more IT experts add network services to their portfolios.