Top exec of AT&T unit dies of "

Samuel Starr, the chief executive of AT&T subsidiary Sterling Commerce, has died from a sudden illness, an Associated Press report said.

The report said Starr, 47, died Sunday night after being hospitalized December 24 with a 'sudden, serious illness,' according to a company statement.

Bob Irwin, senior vice president for global sales, has been named acting president and chief executive of Sterling, a provider of software to enable online commerce and collaboration between different businesses, the Associated Press report said.

Starr joined Sterling in 2000, the same year it was acquired by AT&T, serving in other executive positions before being named president and CEO of the Dublin, Ohio-based company.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen, and six children, the report added.

AT&T, then known as SBC Communications, acquired Sterling near the peak of the Internet bubble for $3.9 billion, a price tag driven by forecasts that all 'business to business' commerce would soon be conducted through online marketplaces not unlike a stock exchange, with demand dictating prices more efficiently, the report further said.

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