Sprint’s ‘Street Fighter’ CEO Studies Prices, Chairman Says

Aug 08, 2014 5:20 pm ET

(Updates with closing share prices in eighth paragraph.)

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Sprint Corp.’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 today, pointing at a picture of Claure during a discussion of his SoftBank Corp.’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 Inc. After scrapping a plan to buy smaller rival T- Mobile US Inc., Son ousted Chief Executive Officer Dan Hesse and hired Claure, the founder of wholesale mobile-phone seller Brightstar Corp., 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 acquired 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. Son, 56, the company is discussing new pricing plans in the U.S., Son said today. The billionaire declined to comment on T-Mobile at a briefing in Tokyo after the earnings.

Sprint press official didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Son’s remarks on Claure.

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

U.S. Key

SoftBank’s U.S. shares slid less than 1 percent $33.78. Sprint, based in Overland Park, Kansas, fell 3.6 percent to $5.67. Shares of SoftBank fell 3.4 percent to 6,801 yen in Tokyo before the earnings were announced.

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

Net income fell to 77.6 billion yen ($763 million) in the three months that ended in June from 244.4 billion yen a year earlier, which included a one-time gain, the Tokyo-based company said today. That was the biggest profit drop since a loss in the March quarter of 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The results included 61.7 billion yen in income from Sprint.

SoftBank booked a 63 billion-yen loss from associates as its Alibaba convertible preference shares were treated as a liability under accounting rules ahead of the Chinese e-commerce operator’s initial public offering.

Fierce Competition

“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 Co.

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’s first-quarter sales were 1.99 trillion yen, while operating profit fell 16 percent to 337.6 billion yen. The company maintained its forecast for annual operating income of 1 trillion yen excluding one-time items.

Slower Growth

Japanese customer growth slowed from a year earlier. The company, including its Ymobile unit, added 548,000 net users in its home country, according to the statement, compared with 947,000 a year ago. NTT Docomo added 461,000 new customers, which is more than five times the pace of the year earlier.

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 Oy for $1.5 billion, as it seeks growth amid a declining population at home.

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