Dan Hesse, who steps down as chief executive of Sprint Corp. on Monday, leaves behind a legacy filled with struggles and plodding success.
In an email to employees Wednesday morning, he made clear he’ll miss the job and those he worked with.
“I will always be a Sprinter and cheering you on. Please accept my best wishes for you and your families,” he wrote in something of a farewell address.
Kansas City will miss him.
“I sent a note to Dan Hesse today saying I hope you don’t leave Kansas City,” said Mark Jorgenson, regional president for US Bank.
Hesse has yet to say publicly, or to Jorgenson, what his plans are, and he was unavailable for an interview Wednesday.
Sprint brought Hesse aboard in December 2007 largely to deal with the aftermath of a botched merger with Nextel Communications.
In less than seven years, he has turned a badly damaged Sprint Nextel Corp. into a recovery story, attractive enough to draw new owners with deep pockets and ambitions for growth.
Hesse restored Sprint’s headquarters to Overland Park after his predecessor had moved to Reston, Va., where Nextel was based.
In many ways, Sprint under Hesse has undone the damage of that merger and laid the foundation for preparing the way for a new competitive push.
“You just need somebody to focus on it and put the thing together,” said Paul de Sa, who follows the company for Bernstein Research.
Sprint announced Wednesday that Hesse won’t be that somebody. He will be replaced Monday by Marcelo Claure, who runs Brightstar Corp. in Florida.
Claure will need to prove he can fill Hesse’s shoes, in business and civic circles alike.
“Dan Hesse is a tremendous civic leader,” said Greg Graves, chairman and chief executive officer of Burns & McDonnell, a globally prominent engineering firm based in Kansas City.
Graves said Hesse’s efforts included not only “innovative projects” involving the two companies but also personal commitments to the community.
“Dan and his wife, Diane, have been incredibly generous to the numerous causes that Deanna and I have championed,” Graves said, referring also to his wife. “We value having Sprint as our neighbor and look forward to collaborating with Marcelo Claure on future business and civic opportunities in Kansas City.”
Similarly, banker Peter deSilva at UMB Financial Corp. said Claure walks into expectations set by his predecessor.
“We have been privileged to have Dan Hesse lead Sprint for the last seven years and look forward to working closely with Marcelo (Claure) as he takes the helm,” deSilva said Wednesday.
Claure also was not available for an interview.
Hesse, a longtime AT&T employee, came to Sprint knowing it was a fixer job. Thousands of painful layoffs, financial losses and customer exits followed.
He quickly acknowledged that Sprint’s problems were deep.
“To be perfectly frank, the issues we face are more difficult than what I expected to find,” Hesse told The Kansas City Star less than three months into the job. “This is not a quick turnaround, and I didn’t claim it would be.”
Six years later, in that email to employees Wednesday, Hesse reflected on the tough times and progress the company has made.
He said “we survived a ‘near death experience’ in 2008,” and “We won case-fulls of awards” for customer satisfaction.
“Working with the phenomenal people of Sprint has been one of the great privileges of my life. What you have accomplished is extraordinary,” Hesse wrote.
“Plus, I got to ‘act’ in 10 television commercials along the way,” he wrote, followed with a smiley face emoticon.
Outsiders say they have seen a return of an innovative bent at Sprint, which had suffered from the company’s financial struggles following the Nextel merger.
Sprint is the most prolific winner of patents in the Kansas City area.
Stephanie Atkinson, who has worked with Sprint as a consultant for 15 years, said financial backing from SoftBank has allowed employees to “shed a lot of the negativity sitting over their shoulders.”
Hesse’s tenure: Key points
Returned company headquarters to Overland Park
Pulled Sprint through a “near-death experience”
Instituted thousands of painful layoffs
Appeared in popular black-and-white television commercials
Restored customer satisfaction to industry standards
Oversaw network replacement and company sale to SoftBank Corp.