It must be tough being Dan Hesse. Picked to head number three wireless provider Sprint back in 2007 (shortly after its ill-fated 2004 merger with Nextel), Hesse hasn't had an easy go of it, and a new Wall Street Journal post paints a picture of a man facing sagging financials, impatient investors, and an activist board watching his every move. Sprint's failed attempt to acquire wireless operator MetroPCS, apparently scuttled by the board after it received Hesse's signature, is just one example among many.
Why is Sprint in such rough shape? Having never fully recovered from the merger with Nextel, the company effectively bet the farm on the iPhone, agreeing to buy 30.5 million of the devices over four years for a total of $15.5 billion — about half of its total operating revenue for 2011. And while Sprint is planning on an aggressive LTE rollout this year, it appears increasingly likely that it's going to end its deal with fledgling network LightSquared, leaving it to search for the capacity elsewhere, perhaps by doubling down on its "up to $350 million" deal with partner Clearwire. While Hesse has managed to mitigate subscriber losses and falling revenues, he still has a big battle to fight, and it's not clear that he's got the confidence of his board behind him.