WiMax operator Clearwire loses CEO, top executives

Three top executives of mobile WiMax operator Clearwire are leaving the company, including CEO Bill Morrow, who will be replaced for the time being by Chairman John Stanton.

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Three top executives of mobile WiMax operator Clearwire are leaving the company, including CEO Bill Morrow, who will be replaced for the time being by Chairman John Stanton.

Morrow cited personal reasons for resigning from both the CEO post and Clearwire's board of directors, company representatives said. He will serve as an advisor during the transition to a new CEO, Clearwire said. The company has formed a search committee, led by board member Dennis Hersch, to find Morrow's permanent replacement. Stanton, the interim CEO, has been chairman of Clearwire since January but on the company's board since 2008.

Also on Thursday, Clearwire announced that Chief Commercial Officer Mike Sievert and CIO Kevin Hart are leaving the company to pursue other opportunities.

Chief Financial Officer Erik Prusch has been promoted to the newly created position of chief operating officer, and Senior Vice President and Treasurer Hope Cochran has been promoted to CFO, Clearwire said.

The company has built out a WiMax network that now reaches more than 110 million US residents, but it faces financial challenges as well as growing competition and a sometimes awkward relationship with its majority owner, Sprint Nextel. Last October, Clearwire announced it would cut 15 percent of its staff and delay the introduction of its first branded smartphone, among other steps, in order to conserve resources.

Clearwire was the first significant carrier to offer a next generation high speed mobile service when it was launched as a joint venture involving Sprint, Comcast and other partners in 2008. It now faces a fast mobile data network from Verizon Wireless, using LTE (Long-Term Evolution) technology, which AT&T also plans to roll out.

Thursday's management changes should not hamper Clearwire's efforts to reach a deal with Sprint on wholesale pricing for WiMax services, the company said in a press release. Sprint sells handsets and other devices equipped with WiMax and sells access to Clearwire's network.

Morrow had led Clearwire through much of its short history, since joining the company in March 2009. Benjamin Wolff, a former Wall Street executive, was its founding CEO. Morrow brought experience running big mobile operators, including as CEO of Vodafone Europe and Vodafone UK.

Morrow, Sievert and Hart were hired to build and run a mobile broadband operation, but faced numerous barriers including a board full of partner companies that compete against its own retail business, said analyst Phil Marshall of Tolaga Research. Sprint has even signaled a willingness to upgrade its own network with 4G technology, he said.

The ongoing dispute with Sprint may have played a role in the three executives' departure, said Monica Paolini of Senza Fili Consulting. If a deal with Sprint really is imminent, as Clearwire said last month, then it would have made more sense for the company to make its leadership change after that was resolved, she said.

"Both Sprint and Clearwire seem to indicate that this deal is crucial," she said. "The timing doesn't make me think that it was a planned transition."

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