by Lauren Gibbons Paul

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: William Esrey of Sprint Corp.

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Chairman and CEO

Sprint Corp.

Being in the telecom industry makes William Esrey feel like it’s a dog-eat-dog world and he’s wearing Milk-Bone underwear, or so the chairman and CEO of Sprint acknowledged during a speech at the Urban Land Institute last spring.

That doesn’t mean he’s letting the bastards get him down, though. In fact, while the telecom market has taken a pounding in recent months?both in value and prestige?the 62-year-old Esrey has emerged as a gentle cheerleader for the industry. The pervasive pessimism he hears signals a lack of vision, says Esrey, who has led the Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint from being a me-too provider of long-distance services to a $26 billion powerhouse. The future of the market, he believes, hinges on selling integrated offerings to businesses and consumers?the seamless combination of traditional and wireless products.

Right now, Esrey is scrambling to take advantage of the opportunities that abound since the collapse of WorldCom. Sprint stands to benefit in WorldCom’s wake as pricing pressures on the remaining telecom players will likely be lessened. “Esrey could not understand why his profit margins weren’t as good as WorldCom’s?now he and everyone else knows why,” says David Willis, a telecom industry analyst for Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group.

Just three years ago, he publicly acknowledged that the failure of a proposed WorldCom merger due to antitrust concerns had set the company back a bit. (Esrey even took a personal pay hit of 46 percent in 2000.) Now, it must seem like a huge stroke of luck. In this day of corporate greed and hubris, bigger doesn’t always mean better.