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BellSouth blocks Sprint hire

Sprint says it's commited to hiring Gary Forsee as chief executive officer despite a temporary restraining order obtained by his current employer to prevent it.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 4, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sprint Corp. said Monday it continues to seek Gary D. Forsee, vice chairman of BellSouth Corp., as a replacement for chief executive and chairman William T. Esrey, despite a temporary restraining order that prevents Forsee from taking the job.

"We are still pursuing him," Sprint spokesman Mark Bonavia said. In the meantime, Esrey and president and chief operating officer Ronald T. LeMay, once considered Esrey's likely successor, will remain in their current positions, Bonavia said.

The Overland Park, Kan., telecommunications company did not say how long Esrey, 63, would stay but said he is expected to complete a transition period.

Shares of Sprint FON, the company's wireline division stock, rose 36 cents to close Monday at $12.50 on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of its wireless stock, PCS, improved a penny to $3.77. Shares of BellSouth rose $1.02, or 4.5 percent, to $23.80.

A Superior Court judge in Atlanta issued the temporary order blocking Forsee over the weekend, following the company's request late Friday.

Forsee, 52, who joined BellSouth in 1999, has a clause in his contract that prevents him from taking a job with a competitor of the Atlanta-based regional phone company. Sprint and BellSouth both sell local and long-distance service and compete nationally for cellular customers because BellSouth is part owner of Cingular Wireless.

A hearing is scheduled in the Atlanta court in the next few days in BellSouth's suit. BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said attorneys for the two companies "are in discussion about this matter."

Noncompete clauses are common in employment contracts, and Forsee had a similar court fight when he left AT&T for Sprint in 1989. AT&T threatened to sue him for breaching a confidentiality agreement, but Forsee went to court first and a judge refused to stop him from taking the Sprint job.

In the 1990s, Forsee led Sprint's long-distance division and is credited with its fast growth. In 1998, he was named chief executive of Global One, a failed international joint venture between Sprint, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. He left that job in 1999 and joined BellSouth.

Esrey's departure has been expected since his announcement in November that he was undergoing treatment for lymphoma. But Sprint has remained silent on why both Esrey and LeMay, 57, would leave.

Sprint, the nation's third-largest long-distance provider and fourth-largest wireless provider, has laid off more than 15,000 employees since October 2001. The company is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results Wednesday.

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