Corporate Leadership

Best Turnaround CEOs of All Time - Dan Hesse | Fierce Wireless

The following excerpt was included in a review of "turnaround CEOs". Dan Hesse was listed alongside Steve Jobs. Published October 2011. 


Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) CEO Dan Hesse arrived at the company in late 2007 as it was in freefall, reeling from the tenure of Gary Forsee. One of the first and most prescient things Hesse did was simplify Sprint's rate plans by offering the company's "Simply Everything" plan in early 2008. Since then, simplicity has become one of the key brand values and identifiers for Sprint, which right now stands alone as the only Tier 1 wireless carrier still offering unlimited smartphone data plans to new customers.

Turning the company around proved extremely difficult, and Sprint lost 5.1 million subscribers in 2008, as wireless revenue fell by $3.1 billion, or 32 percent, as compared to 2007. Still, the company was making improvements, most notably in customer service, which had been one of Sprint's key weak points under Forsee.

In early 2009 Sprint's Boost Mobile brand shook up the industry and sparked a price war with its $50 monthly unlimited plan on Sprint's iDEN network. After acquiring Virgin Mobile USA in late 2009, the company re-tooled its prepaid offerings and launched a multi-brand strategy in May 2010 aimed at segmenting the market. Hesse effectively doubled-down (or quadrupled, if you want to think of it that way) on prepaid with the re-launch of Virgin Mobile as well as the launch of Assurance Wireless for low-income customers and Common Cents Mobile pay-per-minute brands. Prepaid remains one of Sprint's strongest growth engines. Sprint also launched its attractive "Any Mobile, Anytime" service, offering unlimited calling to any mobile number, regardless of carrier.

Slowly but surely, Sprint's subscriber losses began to slow down, starting in the fourth quarter of 2009 and continuing in first quarter of 2010. By the second quarter, Sprint had returned to positive subscriber growth for the first time in three years, largely on the strength of its prepaid offerings, though postpaid subscriber losses were decreasing. Sprint added the most net wireless subscribers in a quarter since 2006 in the third quarter of 2010, but still lost postpaid customers. The turnaround continued in the fourth quarter and Sprint added 1.1 million total net subscribers, including net postpaid additions of 58,000 subscribers--the carrier's first net postpaid additions since the second quarter of 2007. 

Around this time Sprint selected Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ:ALU), Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Samsung for its network modernization project, called Network Vision, the latest evolution of Sprint's network (the company inked a $5 billion deal with  Ericsson in 2009 to outsource the management of its network). Network Vision is centered around multi-mode base stations that Sprint will use to deploy multiple radio technologies, and the plan will allow Sprint to shut down the iDEN network starting in 2013.

In 2011, continued postpaid subscriber losses have leavened overall subscriber gains, but Hesse's biggest coup was finally getting Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone for the Now Network. The company's Network Vision plans, which will allow Sprint to deploy LTE by mid-2012, and move away from 4G dependence on WiMAX provider Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), still need to be ironed out.

...Click for the full recap.