Marcelo Claure is quick to make an impression. At 6 feet, 6 inches tall, he’s easily picked out of a crowd. But even when sitting, he’s made a mark.
Claure’s first job out of college grew out of a conversation on an airplane with the president of the Bolivian Soccer Federation, who offered him the federation’s general manager position.
Now, just seven months into service as a Sprint board member — after Sprint’s owner SoftBank bought his cellphone company Brightstar and made him a billionaire — he apparently towered above others as the choice to succeed Dan Hesse as chief executive.
Sprint chairman and SoftBank leader Masayoshi Son calls Claure “a visionary and execution-driven leader” who inspires the Sprint board.
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Claure has something — call it chutzpah or charisma, smarts or serendipity. His first break into the phone field came in New England, when someone simply handed over a small retail wireless business to him, for free.
He built up that business and then founded Brightstar in Florida in 1997. It grew into one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, largely based on reselling cellphones in underserved Latin America.
Known for spending two-thirds of the year on the road and making dawn-to-well-past-dusk phone calls, Marcelo Claure (pronounced Mar-SELL-o Clow-RAY) soared to recognition in international entrepreneurial and telecommunication circles.
The World Economic Forum called him “bold, brave, action-oriented” in giving a young leader award. USA Today, Ernst & Young and Hispanic Business magazine bestowed entrepreneurial awards. Along with the honors came wealth.
In 2007, a New York investment bank bought a $283 million stake in the then 13-year-old Brightstar, leaving Claure still the largest shareholder. In 2013, SoftBank founder Son paid $1.26 billion for 57 percent of Brightstar, leaving Claure a 43 percent stake worth about $1 billion. Claure’s remaining share now will be acquired by SoftBank.
In Sprint’s prepared announcement, Claure said he “very much” looks forward to moving to the Kansas City area and taking on the Sprint challenge.
“Kansas City is getting one of Miami’s greatest assets,” said Albert Maury, chair of the Florida International University Board of Trustees, where Claure has served since 2010. “Marcelo Claure is a visionary, a great leader and very astute businessman.”
Claure is expected to move from south Florida, where he lives in Miami Beach with his wife and four children and where Brightstar is based in Miami-Dade County.
Arturo Osorio, who’s worked there 10 years and will serve as Brightstar’s interim CEO, said Claure has done a “remarkable job” in building Brightstar’s global wireless business.
Also in south Florida, Claure leaves behind soccer fans who have been closely tracking him, retired British soccer star David Beckham and others in an investor group that’s working to bring a professional soccer franchise to Miami.
The Internet is littered with paparazzi shots of Claure with Beckham, Jennifer Lopez and other notables at Miami Heat games and restaurants.
Claure, who already owns a soccer team in Bolivia, has said Beckham sought him out to be a partner. Claure has admitted that soccer, along with family and Brightstar, is his passion.
Claure told the Miami Herald this spring that by “sleeping less and working more” he was juggling the Miami soccer team quest along with Brightstar duties. He said he was traveling about 200 days a year, mostly internationally.
As far as his core business went, Claure signaled — in words that will strike deeply at Sprint employees — that he was far from complacent in his drive to take Brightstar from $10 billion in revenues in 2013 to an expected $20 billion this year: “Executing at that level requires a different set of people, different set of skills, different set of processes,” he said to the Herald.
Those searching for clues about what Claure will do next also find scant comfort in his recounting of an earlier unsuccessful attempt, in 2008-2009, to bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami. He told the Herald that “it was a bit awkward” to lay off Brightstar employees during the recession while the news was full of his efforts with a $40 million soccer team bid.
Claure watchers also note on the upside that in 2005 he co-founded a philanthropic venture, One Laptop Per Child, that supplies computers in emerging countries.
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A look at Marcelo Claure
Born: La Paz, Bolivia.
Household: Married, four children; lives in Miami Beach
Education: Bachelor’s in economics and finance, Bentley University, Waltham, Mass.
Admires: Investment guru Warren Buffett; “Good to Great” author Jim Collins; soccer athletes; his father
Dislikes: “Settling for mediocrity”; Facebook
Advice: “Continue innovating and finding solutions where others find problems” and “Love what you do.”
Sources: South Florida Business Journal and The Miami Herald