Dan Hesse is one of the few instantly recognizable CEOs in the world. And it isn’t because Sprint, the company he heads, is one of the largest, most recognizable companies in the world because, frankly, it isn’t. Yet on the “I know who that guy is” scale, Hesse ranks up there with Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Donald Trump and a small circle of other CEOs.
There’s a couple of reasons for that: a calm, reassuring personality and the widespread commercial television and Web exposure that takes him to the world at large.
Ironically, Hesse initially wanted no part of a television commercial campaign.
“The reason I do them- and I just finished doing my 10th one-is that they get rated really, really highly,” Hesse (pictured) said. “When our advertising agency asked me if I would do a television commercial, I said I didn’t want to do it. I asked them if CEO-type ads work, and they said: -Only about one in seven, but when they do work, they work extremely well.’ “The reason ours work really isn’t likeability. The audience knows when they’re seeing a real person, and they pay attention-they remember. So we do them, and they seem to work. And I’ve saved a lot of money for the company by not having to hire an actor.”
Hesse has done a lot more than that for the company, analyst Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics, told eWEEK. He noted that when Hesse took over at Sprint in 2007, “People were wondering when Sprint was going to die. “He not only turned the company around, but it’s growing, and his workforce loves him. He’s got internal approval ratings that would make most guys blush-it’s 90-plus percent.”
Entner believes that the Sprint television commercials featuring Hesse “have helped to a fair extent in improving the company’s image because people associate Dan with the company. [They] remember him, and they remember what Sprint stands for.”
Hesse Talks; People Listen
Besides saving all that cash, Hesse has become one of the leading spokesmen for the telecom industry. When he speaks, people listen. Hesse, who earlier this year was elected the new chairman of the international CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industry Association), made a presentation June 16 at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business as part of a weeklong CTO Forum conference. Addressing a select group of CTOs and CIOs from large corporations, Hesse assessed and commented on the current state of the U.S. and global telecom business. He also made sure that everyone knew where he stood on the proposed acquisition of a key competitor, T-Mobile, by another competitor, AT&T.
Hesse couldn’t be clearer about his opinion of two of his most aggressive competitors possibly joining forces in the global telecom marketplace. Naturally, he’s against it, although in 2004, he was in favor of the last big telecom merger- Sprint Nextel-even though he wasn’t Sprint’s CEO at the time.
“For the very first time in my career of 34 years, I’m opposing an acquisition or takeover,” Hesse stated. He called AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile “just a bridge too far.” Hesse claimed it would be “disastrous for consumers and the U.S. economy.” He added that the merger would lead to less competition, which would result in “a lot more regulation than we have now.”
What Merger Will Do to Green Development
Hesse said he is also worried that the merger will stifle “green” development in the industry.
“Today, the wireless industry is a terrific source of green innovation, providing tools needed to cut energy use and promote sustainability,” he added. “But if the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile transaction is allowed to push the wireless industry from competition into duopoly [AT&T and Verizon], I believe wireless innovation is at risk, and thus progress toward a greener future is at risk.
“It’s a well-known economic fact that the most competitive industries are also the most innovative,” Hesse told the audience. “For the reasons we’ve discussed today, innovation and customer choice would be seriously threatened if the wireless industry becomes a duopoly, which is why Sprint is opposing the proposed AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile USA. I hope you’ll not sit silent, but let your voice be heard on this important issue.”
Impact of Mobile Devices
During his speech, Hesse said the impact of mobile phones on the world’s communications is larger than most people realize. “Smartphones are replacing calculators, watches, camcorders, address books and cameras,” he noted. “There have been more camera phones sold in a short period of time than all stand-alone cameras sold in history-digital and film. Cell phones are among the most personal things we own: [They’re] where we store contacts, photos, emails and text messages.
“The downstream economic impact of a thriving wireless industry becomes undeniable. Savings for U.S. companies from using wireless technologies will increase from $18 billion in 2005 to almost $73 billion in 2016. It’s estimated that in the next 10 years, productivity gains from the deployment and use of wireless devices will generate almost $860 billion in additional U.S. GDP.”
A duopoly would certainly threaten this rosy future, Hesse asserted.
“We are smaller than the -Big Two,’ and we know we have to be more creative-it’s part of survival,” he acknowledged. “Lots of things we’ve done, they have followed, but they can spend a lot more money than we’ve ever dreamed of spending in order to catch up.”
The Future of Telecom
Hesse also discussed opportunities for the telecom industry with the Stanford audience. He told them that he believes the future of mobile devices is in the Far East, specifically in countries such as China and India, where the population continues to burgeon and the thirst for these devices is insatiable.
“It took 100 years to build 1 billion fixed phone lines but only 20 years to add 5 billion mobile subscribers,” Hesse said. “And more of those new phones will be bought and used in the Far East than anywhere else-although there is still a large market in North America that needs to be served.
“Last year, for the first time, the U.S. wireless industry carried more data [email, text, Web browsing and so on] traffic than voice traffic. Within the next three years, data traffic will be 66 times what it was in 2008.”
Sprint has been quick to jump on that opportunity, pushing network solutions for small and midsize businesses, as well as enterprises and universities. In 2011, for example, the company installed a campuswide wireless 3G network for Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL).
The network encompasses dozens of facilities and boosts faculty and student options for voice and data communications. The network consolidates multiple frequencies and includes the future option to migrate users from fixed landlines to mobile devices. Just to make things more interesting, the installation had to leave the campus aesthetically unmarred and operate smoothly, despite precious little space for network infrastructure.
“WUSTL selected Sprint to create an on-campus network because it offered the most innovative plan and best overall value for its services,” said Jan Weller, assistant vice chancellor for information services and technology.
Calling for Better Standards
After the Stanford speech, Hesse spoke with eWEEK and stressed that new and better standards need to be agreed upon by all players in the industry. His position as chair of the CTIA should have some influence on this. He added that Sprint is rallying hard for the developer community to join forces and innovate for new and better applications, architectures and delivery methods.
“Sprint incubates innovation by offering state-of-the-art developer sandboxes, coding labs and collaboration tools where partners, equipment manufacturers and developers can create and test,” Hesse said. “No other wireless carrier provides this kind of support for innovation partners.
“This approach to innovation is called -open.’ We support everyone from large developers to those thinking up the latest cutting-edge content from their basements. We don’t restrict access to any applications, on any operating platform.”
Sprint’s largest competitors take a closed, walled-garden approach to development, Hesse contended.
“They create their own carrier app stores, locking down devices with pre-prescribed search engines and adding -bloatware.’ We think that policing innovation in this way stifles it.”
“Dan Hesse is one of the true innovators in our industry,” said Recon Analytics’ Entner. “Back when Dan was the CEO of AT&T Wireless, he introduced the Digital One Rate program, which did away with all long-distance charges. Now he’s got the unlimited access rate going at Sprint, which nobody else is doing.”
Editor’s Note: eWEEK Staff Writer Nicholas Kolakowski contributed to this story.