What makes him powerful: Dan Schulman has the distinction of heading up Virgin Mobile USA, one of the first major MVNOs to launch in the U.S. back in 2002 and one of the few MVNOs to survive in today's tumultuous wireless marketplace. While the U.S. market has not been a particularly friendly place for virtual operators, Schulman has managed to keep Virgin Mobile USA alive and growing.
Virgin, which started as a joint venture with Sprint, initially targeted the youth market--a demographic group that Schulman has said was underserved by traditional wireless carriers. That early focus was critical to Virgin's initial success and the reason the MVNO grew so quickly, attaining 3 million-plus customers by early 2005.
Under Schulman's direction, the company also has been an innovative leader in the advertising area. The company launched the Sugar Mama mobile advertising service in 2006. The program gives customers free airtime in return for viewing mobile ads. A year after the program's launch, Virgin said more than 330,000 of its 5 million subscribers had signed onto the plan.
But Virgin has come under increasing pressure since Schulman and his executive team took the company public in the fall of 2007, generating about $412 million for the firm. In fact, during the most recent quarter, Virgin earned just $3.5 million in net income, down from $7.1 million in the same period in 2007. Revenue was down to $317.4 million from 327.6 million and the company lost about 111,000 subscribers bringing its total subscriber base to just under 5 million.
Yet Schulman has ushered in some bright spots for the company. Virgin completed its acquisition of rival MVNO Helio at the end of August. Although Virgin continues to consider the youth demographic its core customer base, the Helio acquisition will increase Virgin's reach to other demographic groups, including Korean-Americans. As part of the Helio deal, Korean wireless player SK Telekom invested $25 million in cash in Virgin, which it badly needed.