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Sprint CEO Dan Hesse On T-Mobile, HD Audio And Work-Life Balance

John Taylor

When Sprint Corp. CEO Dan Hesse took the helm of an ailing telecommunications corporation seven years ago, he had his work cut out for him.

In the past year, things have moved very quickly for the company, with a majority buyout by Japan-based SoftBank Corp., layoffs and recent rumors of a merger deal with T-Mobile.

On Tuesday's Up to Date, Steve Kraske sat down with Hesse to discuss the whirlwind of activity surrounding Sprint, and what it all means for consumers.

Interview Highlights:

On rumors of a $32 million merger deal with T-mobile

I can’t comment on media speculation. I generally don’t, [mergers and acquisitions] and what have you. But what I will say is what I have been consistently saying for years, and I think that the wireless industry could become more competitive and it would be better for consumers if you had a third strong [carrier]. Right now, I think we have a duopoly of AT&T and Verizon and then there is a huge gap in size and there is Sprint and T-Mobile. I think the big two would react more, in a positive competitive way for consumers if they had a strong, you know, number three.

On staying with Sprint if a merger does happen

By the way, no decisions have been made. But, I am 60 years old, in this job for almost seven years, which is a long period of time for a CEO to be in one job. I have been in this industry, really, the telecom industry for my entire career, which, by the way, I could continue in. You know, I just look at what I want to do with my life — I’ve got a high school son who is going to be a sophomore, I’ve got a father who is getting older — there’s just lots to do. So, the question is … basically I would be happy either way. I might end up staying at Sprint and um, if that were the case I would be, you know, I would be very happy to do that. If it was better for the company, uh, that it be someone else, I have a lot of alternatives. All of which look good.

There’s lots of possibilities. There’s running other companies — you can see my passion around digital music. There is lots to do in that arena. There’s boards of directors, there’s travel. When I start thinking about it, there’s you know, I want the next decade of my life to just to be wonderful and there’s lots of great choices.

On his nearly $50 million CEO compensation

I won’t get into the way that they compute that, because it is done over multiple years and it’s not what … what I get from the IRS and what have you, my pay stub doesn’t look anything like that. It’s one of those things — it is just like, are athletes paid too much? Are actors paid too much? It is supply and demand, and company value does change by many billions of dollars per year, in terms of shareholder value based on the decisions CEOs make.

So it is just a market, and uh, it is private enterprise and a lot of CEOs if another company offers them a lot more money they are going to take that job. It is no different. In private industry, CEOs are well paid. I’m not going to argue with that. But there’s a lot of people who wouldn’t want the CEO lifestyle you were asking about earlier. There is tremendous pressure, there’s lots of hard decisions that come with it. By the way, I am not complaining or making excuses. It is 24/7, so there is a lot that comes with the job that you do give some things up for it.

On the future of audio technology

Years ago, when bandwidth was very limited, there was a reason, and also devices were the beginning of digital, the algorithms weren't that good, … you really had to compromise in terms of sound quality on mobile devices. And it has been amazing to me, both in terms of music and particularly in terms of voice, with all the advances we have made in surfing and web speeds and texting, and phones now have 1080p full HD screens, but no one was doing anything about voice. So we are getting ready to launch very soon, really in a matter of weeks, nationwide HD voice capability, nationwide voice. Which, you know, a lot of people today will say, you know, they are on a cell phone, and they will say, ‘you know, let’s get off this and I will call you back on a landline.’ With HD voice, it will sound better, and noticeably better than your landline.

On the work demands of being a CEO

It is a 24/7 job. It really is. What I do — and I get kidded a lot —- both my boys play baseball and my son now plays basketball, and I am in the stands on my smartphone, or sometimes with my laptop. And that is one of the great things about baseball, there’s a lot of breaks in the action, or when your son’s in the dugout or something, I can get work done. So, I really do try hard to balance my personal life and work life, but there is a … this job isn’t for everybody. It’s just not. You have to really love it, because it is a lot of hours, long days. And, also digital technology — I can say our technology - has actually made the job worse, because you’re never away.

On moving the Overland Park campus to the Silicon Valley in California

I wouldn’t want to speculate on that, because quite frankly that hasn’t been something that we have spent even time talking about, I can say that honestly, we really haven’t. But, uh, there have been a lot of media reports and speculation about, you know, even ‘Forget the merger, you’re moving to Silicon Valley,’ or what haveyou. That has never come up in conversation internally. We do meet often with SoftBank in Silicon Valley. We generally go out once a month in Silicon Valley, [SoftBank] has offices there. And it is good for us because - I go there regularly, once a month with my partners and startups because so much innovation takes place there and it is shorter, if you will, to fly from Tokyo to San Francisco than it is to Kansas City, and there are a lot more flights and what have you. So, it actually works out great for Sprint executives because we like to call Silicon Valley “halfway,” because it is.

You can listen to the entire interview here.

When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.