Sprint Nextel CEO faces tough questions from investors

Dan Hesse, CEO at Sprint Nextel for less than five months, faced tough questions about the company's continued trouble keeping wireless subscribers, an Associated Press report said.

Sprint, the third-largest US wireless provider, lost about a million customers in 2007 and reported that it lost 1.07 million more in the first quarter of 2008 alone, the report said.

Investor Carlos Roberts of McLean, Virginia, told Hesse at the company's annual shareholder meeting was quoted by the report saying that 'over the last year, AT&T and Verizon have really been eating our lunch, particularly in terms of high-value customers.'

Roberts asked Hesse what he was doing about that problem.

Hesse, hired in December after the company's board ousted former CEO Gary Forsee, told Roberts and other shareholders that Sprint Nextel is taking the appropriate steps to regain momentum on subscriber numbers.

But he cautioned that shareholders shouldn't expect significant improvement in the company's finances until the end of 2008.

Chairman James Hance Jr. placed the blame where many already have, on Sprint's struggle to integrate Nextel Communications's network and corporate culture with its own after it bought Nextel in 2005.

Hesse said the company will focus on retaining high-quality customers through improved customer service and special offers for existing customers. For example, it plans to roll out a device like Apple's iPhone, called the Instinct, in June and sell it initially only to existing customers.

Sprint also continues to weed out subscribers who have trouble paying their bills and don't spend much on lucrative data services such as internet surfing or video.

Hesse said Sprint is seeking devices and services that will distinguish its brand from those of rivals AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless.