Hesses Experience Gives Sprint a Fighting Chance






By Charles Cary, vice president of small business services, XO Communications

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse spoke last Thursday at the Potomac Officers Club meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner, Va. POC is a Washington, D.C., area networking organization of senior executives, heavily weighted toward telecom and high-tech.

Hesse’s presentation was interesting and entertaining. He shared insights on managerial skills and technology. For example, on the former, he said when he ran AT&T Wireless, he wanted to protect its scrappy, entrepreneurial culture from the much different culture of the wireline business that had been influenced from years of operating in a quasi-monopolistic, rate-of-return regulatory framework. He said he recognized the different cultures, and the importance of preserving qualities necessary for future success.

This background should serve Hesse nicely in his new role at Sprint. In particular, it has been reported that the merger with Nextel has similar issues. Sprint’s culture was similar to that of the wireline side of the old Bell system. Nextel’s was similar to that attributed to McCaw’s. At AT&T Wireless, Hesse wanted to keep one culture apart from the other. At Sprint, he is more likely to want to meld the cultures, perhaps leaning more toward Nextel’s aggressive scrappiness.

On the technical side, Hesse talked about the next generations of wireless data services: WiMAX and LTE (Long Term Evolution). WiMax is being championed by Sprint and its recently announced consortium of Clearwire (Craig McCaw), Comcast, Time Warner Cable, etc. AT&T and Verizon are champions for LTE. While Hesse’s venture will be at a scale disadvantage to these companies, it will have about a two-year time-to-market advantage. In addition, Hesse stresses the openness of the system in cultivating relationships with third-party developers with the goal of having a robust portfolio of complementary services by the time AT&T and Verizon enter the market.

Besides the Sprint versus Nextel cultural issue he still must be facing, Hesse also has to deal with optimizing the relationship between Sprint’s technology and the very different iDen technology that Nextel’s platform uses.

Fortunately for Sprint, Hesse certainly has experience dealing with the kinds of challenges he’s facing. Not exactly deja vu, but given his capabilities and background, he has a fighting chance.

Charles Cary is vice president of small business services at XO Communications and a member of the PHONE+/Channel Partners Conference & Expo Advisory Board. In addition to running marketing organizations, Cary has significant finance, sales, and general management experience. Previously, he worked for Nortel Networks, AT&T Inc., PSINet, and CGI AMS. He has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan.

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