Friday, August 8, 2014

Can New Sprint CEO Change Sprint?

Here’s one way yo illustrate the challenges Sprint will face as it prepares, at long last, for a serious attack on the U.S. mobile market.

How well do some words match up with your own experience with the leading U.S. mobile service providers?

“Street fighter, outlaw, guts.”

Those are words Masayoshi Son used to describe the new Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. Does that sound like Verizon? No, you would say. Not on any level.

Does that sound like AT&T? Maybe the “guts” part, you might say.

Does it sound like T-Mobile US? Much more so. But does it sound like Sprint? And that is precisely the issue. Does that sound like the people you know who populate the ranks of Sprint? Well, no.

But none of the four leading U.S. carriers front-line personnel seem to match those words. So what of the people behind the front lines? No, that doesn’t seem quite right, either.

Of all the words one would use to describe the middle and executive ranks at the four carriers, you would definitely not deem “outlaw” the right term to describe them, and most of you would not say the organizations tolerate or encourage people who might be called “street fighters” or people with “guts.”

And that is not to pick on telcos. Think of the vast bureaucracies that staff any large, multi-national corporation. Do the words “outlaw, guts and street fighter” seem to resonate? Of course not.

Still, it might be important to note a couple of facts. What became T-Mobile US was founded by Western Wireless. Who is that? But that might be the point. At its peak, Western Wireless served about 1.8 million customers.

In a current market of some 335 million customers, Western Wireless would not have registered on a market share graph.

There are cultural implications. T-Mobile US operates more efficiently than its top competitors. It never did have the bloat that larger organizations feature. Some might say that is a cultural legacy left by its founding as a scrappy upstart, not an organization with a large telco mentality.

That is not true of AT&T Mobility or Verizon Wireless, both of which have Bell system roots.

Sprint, in terms of culture, should be different. Though Sprint is well over a century old, it grew up as an independent company not part of the Bell system. That said, Sprint did not become a national brand until the mid-1970s, on the strength of its long distance business.

And Sprint wasn’t a player in mobility until the 1990s.

The point is that Sprint’s mobile culture arguably could have emerged, as have the cultures of many competitive service providers, in a more “scrappy” mode. That doesn’t seem to have happened.

Whether that is a function of the rural telco or railroad parts of its history is hard to say. For whatever reason, most people would not say Sprint is synonymous, in any way, with “outlaw, street fighter or guts.”

John Legere’s success at T-Mobile US (and most would agree it is possible to use those terms to describe Legere) is something Claure will try to emulate at Sprint.

Whether the organization each CEO leads is capable of acting in a way commensurate with the marketing slogans is the key issue.

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