Sprint’s Tokyo-based chairman stopped trying to sell the Overland Park-based company after failing to find a buyer, a published report said Wednesday.
News broke last week that Masayoshi Son, founder and head of SoftBank Corp., which owns 80 percent of Sprint, had lost confidence in his big American investment and tried to sell it.
However, Son reversed course, publicly endorsed the turnaround plans of chief executive Marcelo Claure and told Wall Street analysts a week ago that he did not want to sell the company. Claure told The Star that he had sought Son’s backing and an assurance that the effort to sell the company had ended.
“I wanted to make sure he was committed and that he would stop trying to sell Sprint,” Claure said last week. “He made it very public that Sprint is not for sale anymore.”
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The Wall Street Journal’s report dropped in a few details about what occurred behind the scenes. The newspaper said Son had lieutenants drop a “hint” to two potential buyers, Comcast and Altice, neither of which showed an interest. The Journal report cited but did not identify sources that it said were familiar with the conversations.
The Journal’s report said Son declined to talk about the meetings that hinted toward a sale but conceded that Sprint didn’t appeal to potential buyers.
“If nobody wants to buy it, and we still have customers, we still have employees, so I have to take care,” he told The Journal.
In response to the article, Sprint provided a statement that skipped over the new information about efforts to sell the company to focus on the renewed commitment.
“It’s clear from recent comments and actions that our chairman, CEO and the entire leadership team are committed to turning around Sprint,” the statement said. “We have a specific plan and are making progress every day. We know it will take some time and there is a lot of hard work to be done, but there is momentum in the business and a lot of excitement and positive energy among employees.”
Son reportedly lost confidence after federal regulators shot down his plan to merge Sprint with its then smaller rival T-Mobile US in a bid to challenge industry giants AT&T and Verizon.
“I was thinking to myself: ‘I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life,’ which was the misjudgment of the U.S. regulatory environment,” Son told The Journal in the interview.
According to the report, Son’s attention strayed from Sprint, which was losing customers, losing money and on the verge of losing its No. 3 rank among the nation’s four largest carriers.
“I’m a busy guy,” he told The Journal. “Why should I even concentrate on the U.S. market when the situation does not look good?”
Son’s endorsement last week allows Claure, a year into the job, to proceed with a five-point turnaround plan. Its focus includes continued network improvements, new financing arrangements and aggressive cost cutting at Sprint.