Sprint Nextel to lose executive chairman

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Sprint Nextel, the third largest US mobile carrier, is losing another senior executive. The wireless carrier said Tim Donahue, executive chairman, will retire at the end of the year.

The announcement comes less than two months after the surprise resignation of Len Lauer, Sprint Nextel’s chief operating officer, who stepped down amid growing investor concern about slowing subscriber growth, customer defections and signs of integration problems following Sprint’s $35bn acquisition of Nextel Communications last year.

Sprint Nextel’s stock hit a 52-week low in August after Mr Lauer resigned and the company announced a 38 per cent drop in quarterly earnings. That news led to a downgrade in Standard & Poor’s credit rating on the company.

Mr Donahue, 57, had been Nextel’s chief executive and was widely credited with helping build that business into one of the fastest growing and most profitable wireless operators ahead of the takeover.

On Tuesday he said that after 20-years in the telecommunications industry it was time “to cheer Sprint Nextel from the sidelines”, and said he was stepping down in order to spend more with his family and friends.

Some analysts had hoped Mr Donahue would take a more active role now in helping the merged company improve its performance and reassert itself in the face of tough competition from Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless, the US market leaders.

Although he had told analysts that he wanted to relinquish his executive duties in about a year in order to spend more time with his family, he had been expected to remain on the board in a non-executive capacity.

His decision to give up both roles at the end of this year surprised some industry watchers. Sprint Nextel nevertheless insisted that his departure was voluntary and said a successor would be named to the executive chairman’s position shortly.

On Tuesday Sprint also announced the appointment of Robert Bennett, the former president and chief executive of Liberty Media, to its board.

He is currently president of Discovery Holding which was spun off from Liberty Media in 2005.

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