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Originally published Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 5:20 PM

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Sprint’s new CEO a savvy ‘street fighter’

Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure is already studying new pricing plans to make the ailing U.S. wireless company more competitive.


Bloomberg News

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Sprint’s new leader, Marcelo Claure, is a “street fighter” who is already studying new pricing plans to make the ailing U.S. wireless company more competitive, Chairman Masayoshi Son said.

“Marcelo is just like a street fighter. His face is like a bandit. When I first met him, I said, ‘You look like a bandit,’ ” Son said last week, pointing at a picture of Claure during a discussion of his SoftBank’s quarterly results. “He is a man who has a very similar culture to SoftBank.”

SoftBank, which owns about 80 percent of Sprint, is counting on the U.S. carrier to return to growth as it gets squeezed in its native Japan by tougher price competition with NTT Docomo.

After scrapping a plan to buy smaller rival T- Mobile US, Son ousted Chief Executive Dan Hesse and hired the Bolivian-born Claure, the founder of wholesale mobile-phone seller Brightstar, to put the company on a new course.

“Marcelo, a street fighter, has enlarged Brightstar from zero to a wholesale firm crossing more than 100 countries,” said Son, who bought control of Brightstar last year. “When he came to the U.S., he had only $100 in his pocket, and then he made a company with sales of 1 trillion yen. In that sense, he is the street fighter.”

Claure, 43, this week said he will look at Sprint’s costs “extensively” and the company must continue to improve its network. The company is discussing new pricing plans in the U.S., Son said Friday. The billionaire declined to comment on Bellevue-based T-Mobile at a briefing in Tokyo after the earnings.

SoftBank posted a 68 percent drop in first-quarter profit after booking an accounting charge from its stake in Alibaba Group and as subscriber growth slowed.

“The key point from now on is how Son will improve its U.S. business,” said Satoru Kikuchi, an analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities. “I think it was good that he did not use up his limited resources and money in T-Mobile.”

“Domestic competition among mobile carriers is fierce, but I don’t think it will get much worse,” said Kazuyuki Terao, Tokyo-based chief investment officer of Allianz Global Investors Japan.

Last week, Sprint reported its first quarterly profit in more than six years, with sales that topped analysts’ estimates, after holding onto more subscribers than projected. Still, the company has lost monthly contract customers every year since Hesse became CEO in 2007.

SoftBank, founded in 1981, has stakes in more than 1,300 companies, including more than 30 percent of Alibaba. The Hangzhou, China-based Internet company is headed toward a U.S. IPO and is valued at $187 billion, according to the average of analyst estimates.

SoftBank has concentrated on acquisitions that provide content for wireless operations, including adding control of Finnish gamemaker SuperCell for $1.5 billion, as it seeks growth amid a declining population at home.

The company will continue to seek Internet and telecommunications opportunities globally, Son said.



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