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Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure on Winning Again

Cutting costs, simplifying plans and speeding up network deployment.

Jorge R. Perez

Just how rough are things at Sprint?

Well, as a sign of progress, new CEO Marcelo Claure points to the fact that, on a couple of days in recent weeks, it has actually gained more customers from rivals than it lost. Though there have been more days where the reverse is true, the few positive days are the first the company has seen in many, many months.

“It feels good,” Claure told Re/code in an interview on Tuesday. “Last year we lost a few million customers.”

Claure said he is clear with his team that adding customers is the yardstick by which he and the company will be measured. He declined to forecast when the company will be able to gain customers for a full quarter, but did say “the fourth quarter is going to be an indicator of what we can deliver.”

Although he’s just a few weeks into the job, Claure has already begun to put his stamp at the No. 3 U.S. carrier. He’s begun to cut costs, added simpler and cheaper price plans, sped up network deployment plans and worked to bolster Sprint’s image both inside and outside the company.

And that’s exactly what Claure said he was told to do by his boss — Masayoshi Son, the head of SoftBank, which owns a majority stake in Sprint.

“We have to do everything within our power to get back to winning,” Claure said of Son’s marching orders.

SoftBank bought a controlling interest in Sprint last year, but had grown impatient with the company’s performance. After abandoning a plan to buy T-Mobile U.S., Son tapped Claure to speed up a recovery strategy.

Claure, who joined Sprint’s board earlier this year, is the founder and former CEO of Brightstar, a wireless distributor that SoftBank bought last year.

On the network front, Claure said that the company has been through a lot of bumps, but is starting to turn a corner.

“We’re done with Network Vision, which was a pretty painful experience, as everyone knows,” Claure said. “We underestimated what it means to rip [out] and replace a network.”

And, of course, Claure is looking to cut costs.

“I have been very frank with employees from Day 1,” Claure said. “We are looking at everything that we do. … Businesses we shouldn’t be in, we are in the process of eliminating.”

The trickiest part will be continuing to deliver on Claure’s promise to offer the best value in wireless, particularly given the feisty T-Mobile.

Both Sprint and T-Mobile are making similar claims — they have excess capacity and, as a result, can deliver the best service at the lowest price.

With the iPhone 6, for example, Sprint is debuting iPhone-only rate plans that it hopes will make it the best option. As it has in the past, Sprint will focus on its offering of truly unlimited data plans, a practice largely abandoned by AT&T and Verizon.

“Everyone is confused about data,” Claure said. “Everyone is data-hungry and no one knows how to measure it.”

And with bigger screens, Claure says, iPhone 6 owners will be gobbling up data even faster.

But T-Mobile also offers unlimited data plans and has shown a willingness to attack rival promotions. It is slated to have its own “Un-carrier 7.0” event later on Wednesday.

Claure promised that Sprint will continue to win the battle, though he said he is hesitant to call it a price war.

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