KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Sprint Nextel Corp. reached out to a familiar face Tuesday in its search for a leader to overcome disappointing subscriber numbers and make the nation’s third-largest wireless provider competitive again.
The Reston, Va.-based company named Dan Hesse, chairman and chief executive of wireline company Embarq Corp., as its new president and chief executive officer.
“This is not a quick fix, this is not going to happen overnight,” Hesse, 54, said in an interview. “But the ultimate goal is to get to a leadership position in the industry.”
Hesse, an almost 30-year telecommunications veteran who at one time ran AT&T Wireless, operated Sprint’s local telephone division for a year before it was spun off to form Embarq last year. Both Embarq and Sprint’s operational headquarters are based in Overland Park, Kan.
He replaces Gary Forsee, who was ousted from Sprint Nextel in October after several quarters of falling subscriber numbers and other operational troubles.
The selection of Hesse, whose name was mentioned early as a possible CEO replacement, was greeted with approval from most industry observers Tuesday.
“He has never lost sight of that business,” said Berge Ayvagian, chief strategy officer for research firm Yankee Group. “He knew his job was to spin off Embarq successfully, and I think he’s done a remarkably good job with that, but I think he’s a wireless guy.”
Investors were less optimistic as Sprint shares lost 15 cents, or 1.1 percent, to close at $13.76 after hitting a 52-week low of $13.71 Tuesday.
Hesse will certainly have a full plate waiting for him at Sprint Nextel, which has fallen far behind rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. in attracting and retaining customers.
The company has continued to struggle with lingering issues from Sprint’s 2005 acquisition of Nextel Communications Inc., which was supposed to give the company enormous potential but instead saddled it with incompatible networks, signal-killing technical glitches, a customer base filled with credit-compromised subscribers and a sometimes unfocused marketing effort.
On Tuesday, Hesse said his top issue will be finding ways to reduce the number of customers dropping coverage or jumping to other carriers.
Hesse spent 23 years at AT&T, including a stint as the president and CEO of AT&T Wireless Services.