March 7, 2014

Sprint confirms pending departures of two network executives

The Overland Park-based wireless company said Steven L. Elfman, president of network, technology and operations, will leave later this year. Bob Azzi, chief network officer, also is leaving.

Sprint Corp. has confirmed that two top executives overseeing technology and network operations are leaving the wireless company.

Steven L. Elfman, president of network, technology and operations, will leave Sprint later this year, spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer confirmed in an email Friday. She declined to provide specifics about the timing of his departure.

Elfman was Sprint’s second-highest paid executive last year behind chief executive Dan Hesse. The two men had worked together previously at AT&T Wireless and a smaller company called Terabeam Corp.

Tiemeyer said Bob Azzi, its chief network officer, “reached a mutual understanding” with the company and will be leaving, Tiemeyer said. John Saw is being named the company’s chief network officer.

Azzi has been with Sprint for 26 years and is working “to ensure a smooth transition of responsibility,” Tiemeyer said.

News of his departures comes as Sprint says its massive network upgrade project will reach a turning point midway through this year. It already has launched a new faster wireless broadband connection called Sprint Spark ins some markets, including Kansas City.

Azzi’s departure was included in a Wall Street Journal article Friday that highlighted Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s increasing presence at Sprint.

Son founded and leads Tokyo-based SoftBank Corp., which owns 80 percent of Sprint. He became Sprint’s chairman after the acquisition.

The Star previously reported on Son’s sometimes blunt descriptions of Sprint’s culture and his hopes of changing it – which, he wrote in a Japanese publication, is “why I sometimes yell at Sprint executives.”

The Journal’s front-page story Friday — “With shouts and hugs, Sprint boss drives turnaround” — includes interesting details about how Son is trying to quicken the pace of change and improve the results at Overland Park-based Sprint.

Among the details:

• Son has established a “shadow headquarters” in San Carlos, Calif. He spends about half his time there, and is bringing in about 1,000 SoftBank employees from Japan to help develop new services and tweak wireless technologies. At the same time, Sprint executives are flying in each month to California for several days of meetings.

• Son has been unhappy at the slow pace of approvals by local government officials of proposed cell tower installations. Sprint officials reminded the Japanese executives that replacing the company’s cellular network is especially hard becuse of the U.S.’s size compared with Japan, which is about as big as Montana.

• Sprint now tracks sales data in real time, including hourly figures on specific retail stores and employees.

• Son has compared Sprint to the “feudal lords of pre-modern Japan who wielded absolute power in their territories but little influence elsewhere,” the Journal reported. According to one SoftBank executive, Son said “Sprint is a daimyo in Kansas. That’s not enough.”

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