Light Reading

A Short History of Hesse

Sarah Thomas
8/6/2014
50%
50%

When I started my career as an intern at Telephony magazine just over eight years ago, I was thrilled at the prospect of gaining (through a family friend) an exclusive interview with Sprint CEO Gary Forsee, and making a name for myself.

But a few months later, Forsee resigned (or was pushed), crushing my interview ambition. But there was soon a new interview target (though without the quasi-nepotistic connections) as Dan Hesse took over as top dog at my hometown carrier.

From his first black-and-white commercial and his emphasis on network harmonization and customer service, Hesse promised to turn the struggling carrier around.

And, in many respects, he succeeded. The company he is handing over to new CEO Marcelo Claure is much different than the mess of networks and brand confusion he inherited, even if many challenges still remain. (See Sprint Appoints Claure As New CEO and Hesse Out, Claure In: Sprint Is Son's House Now!.)

It was often messy, but during his tenure, Hesse shut down Sprint's old Nextel network, pivoted the company from WiMax to LTE, and -- his biggest accomplishment -- negotiated Sprint's acquisition by SoftBank Corp. , netting it the cash and leadership it needed to continue its Network Vision (although ultimately getting himself ousted in the process). (See Softbank Closes on Sprint Acquisition.)

"Dan Hesse walked into a very, very difficult situation," says Interactive Broadband Consulting Group LLC (IBB) Senior Partner Jefferson Wang. "From a network perspective, it was Nextel at low-band, Sprint at mid-band, WiMax at high-band. There were two different headquarters -- Reston, Virginia, and Overland Park, Kansas. It was a company with dual identities. He had to unify and harmonize all that, which took a lot of strong, decisive decision making. That is what he was great at."


For more on the key developments in the US mobile sector, check out the stories at Light Reading's dedicated mobile channel.


As we bid Hesse adieu and wish him and his reported $40 million severance package well, we take a look back at some of our favorite moments with the outgoing Sprint CEO, who we'll always remember in all his black-and-white glory.

Click on the picture below for more:

The Face of Sprint
Sprint eventually pulled its black-and-white commercials featuring Hesse, meant to give a face to the brand, but Hesse's celebrity status was already secured.
Sprint eventually pulled its black-and-white commercials featuring Hesse, meant to give a face to the brand, but Hesse's celebrity status was already secured.

In addition to being a strong leader, Hesse was just a downright likeable guy. Glassdoor named him one of 2014's highest-rated CEOs by employees, even though he was also the highest paid in the wireless industry last year, raking in $49.1 million, including $27.8 million in stock. (See Sprint CEO Hesse to Stay On Through 2018.)

Before T-Mobile US Inc. CEO John Legere came around, Hesse's laidback keynotes had the most quips and quotable one-liners. I think Light Reading's own Dan O'Shea summed it up best, when he commented almost a year ago: "Hesse has been in the sector forever, and has proven himself very level-headed over the years, even when hawking fringe-appeal ideas like free space optics. He is the sort of guy who, if he was my neighbor and I was going out of town for a long period of time, I would totally trust him to water my plants, bring in the mail and make sure a few lights were left on every night to make it look like someone was actually there."

But, nice guys finish last, as they say, and Sprint is in need of a shakeup, especially as a merger with T-Mobile US is off the table. There has long been talk of the board distancing itself from Hesse under Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son's leadership, so his departure isn't all that surprising, even with a five-year contract in place. (See SoftBank's Son Keeps Sprint on Short Leash.)

In a memo to employees, Hesse acknowledged the rocky road Sprint has taken during the past seven years, and reiterated his confidence in the company he is leaving, and in its new leadership.

"With the most difficult part of the Network Vision build behind us, Sprint is about ready to begin growing again," Hesse wrote. "A 'controlled entity' like Sprint can be most effective when the majority owner and the CEO are fully aligned and are great partners. Marcelo and Masa enjoy an exceptional relationship, which has grown out of mutual respect between two very successful entrepreneurs. This is the right time in Sprint's evolution for Marcelo to take the reins and get the most benefit from our relationship with SoftBank."

IBB's Wang wasn't surprised to hear of Hesse's departure either, as nearly seven years is a long time for any CEO to serve. He praises Hesse for teeing up Son and Claure to make the changes needed to make Sprint a real competitor in the US again. Hesse harmonized the networks, gave Sprint a brand identity, and improved its customer image. Now it's up to Claure and Son to execute, but Wang thinks they're up for the challenge.

"If Son is behind it, it will get very aggressive," Wang says. "That's the only way he plays. He plays scale, aggressive price changing, and bringing the industry down to a certain threshold that's difficult if you don’t follow… If he has the control in the US market, he'll bring all his assets here and disrupt the disruptor."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

(10)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
KBode
50%
50%
KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/7/2014 | 2:52:04 PM
Re: Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
It seems like between WiMax/Clearwire and Nextel they were always heading a million directions at once, and not doing anything very well. The truly well-performing network has been "around the corner" for what feels like most of a decade now. It almost feels like Hesse was just starting to figure out the correct path forward when the SoftBank deal arrived.
SReedy
50%
50%
SReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/7/2014 | 9:20:25 AM
Re: Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
True, Sprint was banging on about unlimited when no one else was, but it didn't have the effect of making them bring back unlimited. Quite the opposite really.
Carol Wilson
50%
50%
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
8/6/2014 | 4:22:53 PM
Re: Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
Dan,I agree. That's kinda what I meant about having lots of different strategies but not one laser-focused approach to the market. 
DanJones
50%
50%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
8/6/2014 | 4:20:56 PM
Re: Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
Well you'll note that Legere has either Neville Ray -- the real power behind the throne --  or  Carter Braxton do his presentations with him as well. He's pretty quick to acknowledge the CTO and CFO in public.

Personally, I understand that some people find Legere an abrasive potty mouth (doesn't worry me but then years of having editors for bosses will do that to you) but the whole "uncarrier" strategy HAS actually changed some aspects of the way that AT&T and Verizon do their businesses.

I'm not sure I could point to a single time that happened under Hesse's leadership. Maybe AT&T marketing HSPA+ as 4G but that was more a reaction to Verizon.
SReedy
50%
50%
SReedy,
User Rank: Blogger
8/6/2014 | 4:19:08 PM
Re: Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
I think Sprint took its sweet time on big decisions like moving to LTE and Spark, too. They didn't move fast and things got messier as a result. Again, though, Hesse inherited a huge mess, so he can be blamed for not moving fast enough, but not for causing the problem in the first place.
Mitch Wagner
50%
50%
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
8/6/2014 | 4:12:01 PM
Suit with tennis shoes?
Suit with tennis shoes? It works for Doctor Who.

Carol Wilson
50%
50%
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
8/6/2014 | 4:02:39 PM
Re: Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
Dan, I would agree people put too much emphasis on CEOs, but both Hesse and Legere are inviting that scrutiny by making themselves the face of their companies albeit in very different ways.

The independent contractor strategy could actually work to enable faster deployment if managed correctly. But that may not have been the case with Sprint. 
DanJones
100%
0%
DanJones,
User Rank: Blogger
8/6/2014 | 4:00:10 PM
Re: Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
People place too much emphasis on the CEOs sometimes.

 

I have been told in the past that the real reason that T-Mobile has been so much faster in deploying LTE than Sprint, which is the rock that their current expansion is based on, is because Sprint relied much more heavily on independent contractors than T-Mobile did. 

That's just an anecdote I've heard, nonetheless, food for thought...
mhhf1ve
50%
50%
mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2014 | 3:56:23 PM
How has Sprint really improved?
It's still nipping at the heels of AT&T and Verizon... its coverage is 3rd place... I suppose it hasn't fallen further behind, but has it really gained that much ground? 
Carol Wilson
50%
50%
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
8/6/2014 | 3:23:15 PM
Hesse: A Man of Many Strategies
I would agree with Jeff Wang that Hesse did a tremendous job of pulling Sprint together into a single entity, even if that behind-the-scenes work goes on today. And I would agree with Dan O'Shea that he came across as a good and decent guy, who genuinely cared about the company and its employees. I think that shows in his final quote as CEO. 

Sometimes it felt to me like there were almost too many strategies in play and that they kept shifting a bit. That may be unfair to say but it's my impression. Sprint may have come together as one company under Hesse, but he didn't fully succeed in giving it one identity to the public, as Legere - while hardly as likeable -- as done with T-Mobile. 
More Blogs from Que Sera Sarah
JDSU's latest location report shows that 1% of LTE users are consuming 56% of mobile data, and it's happening in less than 1% of the area a mobile network covers.
According to Light Reading's poll of 900 readers, NFV and SDN, followed by 5G and the IoT, will dominate headlines at this year's mobile extravaganza in Barcelona.
A survey of more than 450 Light Reading readers suggests that fragmentation and a lack of standards is the biggest challenge for service providers wanting to participate in the space.
As indoor small cells start getting deployed at scale, attention is turning toward what else can be done with the base station, including exploring location-based services.
RootMetrics says Sprint has passed T-Mobile in overall network performance, thanks in large part to its improved voice and text quality, but data will be most important going forward.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
The New IP is actually bigger even than business. Like another hugely important tech that Light Reading is digging into right now, the New IP has the potential to change the world by fundamentally advancing what it is possible for people to achieve with communications.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
The Power of Five Convergences in OceanStor OS

3|4|15   |   6:24   |   (0) comments


OceanStor OS is Huawei's brand-new storage operating system. While inheriting the consistent high stability, reliability and performance from the company's previous storage products, OceanStor OS abounds in new converged storage features. Specifically, the new storage operating system achieves "five convergences" to lift storage convergence to a higher level.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
4K Brings Extreme Video Experience

3|4|15   |   8:10   |   (0) comments


4K video is a hot topic in the video industry. It will certainly bring an extreme video experience to end users. At the same time, however, it will also pose a big challenge to operators. Check out this Huawei 4K experts' discussion about how operators can achieve success in 4K video service.
LRTV Interviews
DT's Virtualization Vision for Europe

3|4|15   |   10:23   |   (0) comments


Light Reading CEO Steve Saunders talks virtualization, cloudification and standards with Deutsche Telekom's Axel Clauberg at Mobile World Congress.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE's Wireline at MWC 2015

3|4|15   |   6:35   |   (0) comments


Light Reading speaks with Jane Chen, ZTE's Senior VP of Wireline Business, about innovations in her product line at Mobile World Congress.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE at MWC 2015

3|4|15   |   4:24   |   (0) comments


Dr. Dick Chen of ZTE USA gives Light Reading an overview of what's new at ZTE's pavilion at Mobile World Congress 2015.
LRTV Interviews
Ericsson CEO Talks Telco Data Center Tech

3|4|15   |   05:45   |   (0) comments


At Mobile World Congress, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg discusses telco data center technology, business models, small cells and more.
Between the CEOs
EXCLUSIVE: Cisco's Chambers on Reinvention

3|3|15   |   8:24   |   (1) comment


Light Reading CEO Steve Saunders talks transformation and virtualization – including Light Reading's independent testing of the vendor's virtualization solutions – with Cisco CEO John Chambers at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
LRTV Documentaries
The Three Cs of MWC15

3|2|15   |   2:33   |   (1) comment


My visit to this year's Mobile World Congress is going to dominated by three Cs – cloud, cells and coffee.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Shares Its Vision of the Future of Mobile Networks Innovations

2|26|15   |   2:30   |   (0) comments


Mobile broadband is changing our lives. It's reshaping the Internet, industry, and society. It allows us to freely connect with one another anytime, anywhere. At this year's Mobile World Congress, Huawei will share its latest insights and newest ideas and technologies that will shape the future of MBB. They will showcase their end-to-end MBB solutions that will ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Accelerate Digitizing, Boost Digital Business

2|26|15   |   6:14   |   (0) comments


A new digital revolution is leading us to a better connected world. Together with millions of digital partners, Huawei will help CSPs to build their digital service ecosystem and aggregate a wide variety of digital services. In this video, we find out how Huawei is going to help CSPs implement digital operations.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
The Secret Recipe to Enabling Hyper-Growth Industries

2|26|15   |   3:38   |   (0) comments


With a number of successful cases on network capability exposure, Huawei is going to share the secret recipe to enabling hyper-growth markets with a step-by-step approach.
LRTV Documentaries
BTE 2015 Is Bigger & Even Better

2|25|15   |   03:13   |   (4) comments


This year's Big Telecom Event (BTE) in Chicago is going to provide more opportunities than ever for networking, getting to grips with key industry challenges and opportunities and, equally as important, having some fun.
Upcoming Live Events
March 17, 2015, The Cable Center, Denver, CO
April 14, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City, NY
May 12, 2015, Grand Hyatt, Denver, CO
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 8, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 9, 2015, Chicago, IL
June 10, 2015, Chicago, IL
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Net neutrality, broadband services and the current outlook on data consumption, as presented by the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Hot Topics
Internet Pioneers Decry Title II Rules
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 3/2/2015
Wheeler: We'll Enforce Title II 'Case-By-Case'
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 3/3/2015
New CenturyLink CTO in Major Overhaul
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 3/4/2015
Verizon Takes Radio Dot to Detroit, VoLTE Overseas
Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, 2/27/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Check out Light Reading's interview with Jay Samit, the newly appointed CEO of publicly traded SeaChange International Inc. With a resume that includes Sony, EMI, and Universal, Samit brings a reputation as an entrepreneur and a disruptor to his new role at the video solutions company. Hear what he had to say about the opportunities in video, as well as the outlook for cable, telco, OTT and mobile service providers.