Brightstar’s Marcelo Claure tapped to lead Sprint

Marcelo Claure, founder of Miami global communications juggernaut Brightstar known for high-profile ventures with soccer star David Beckham, technology guru Nicholas Negroponte and actress Jennifer Lopez, will soon take on a new challenge: Leading the publicly-traded Sprint Corp.

Claure will replace Sprint CEO Dan Hesse as of Monday. The announcement Wednesday was made by SoftBank Corp. of Japan, the majority owner of the two companies. Brightstar will launch a global search for a CEO.

“The opportunity to leverage Sprint’s history of success and innovation to create the leading wireless service provider in the U.S., all while delivering incremental value to our shareholders, is incredibly exciting,” Claure said in a statement. He will be based in Overland Park, Kansas, Sprint’s headquarters.

In January, SoftBank Corp. bought a majority stake in Brightstar. SoftBank will acquire Claure’s remaining 43 percent stake on Monday.

The Bolivian-born Claure, 43, who lives in Miami Beach and is the father of four, founded Brightstar in 1997 as a distributor for cellphones throughout Latin America for Motorola and others. The company then expanded globally and added services such as wireless-device insurance plans and financing options for consumers.

Today, Brightstar has about 9,500 employees and operates in more than 100 countries. With $10.6 billion in gross revenue in 2013, a company record, the company was also the 55th largest privately held U.S. company in that year, according to Forbes.

Though Claure has never run a public company, he has been active in the global wireless and business communities. He joined the Sprint board of directors in January and has served on a number of boards, including the Bolivian-American Chamber of Commerce and the Florida International University Board of Trustees.

“He’s a visionary and he has an incredible range of contacts globally as he has built his business around the world,” said FIU President Mark Rosenberg. “I think this is an incredible recognition for our community and the kind of remarkable talent we have here.”

In 2005, Claure joined with MIT Media Lab co-founder Negroponte to create the One Laptop Per Child program to distribute low-cost laptops to children in emerging countries. “He put up $70 million to fund the first production run of computers,” said Robert Hacker, who served as One Laptop’s CFO a few years later. “That was a serious commitment and it launched the organization.” Claure has garnered a number of CEO and Entrepreneur of the Year awards through the years.

But more recently, Claure has been making headlines of the sports and celebrity kind: He partnered with Beckham, the retired English footballer, and longtime Beckham business partner and former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Miami. A longtime soccer fan, Claure has owned the Bolivian club Bolivar since 2008.

In 2013, Brightstar partnered with J.Lo to create the Viva Móvil brand of smartphones and tablets on the Verizon network. The two are friends, and Claure traces his friendship with Beckham to a party at J.Lo’s house.

Claure’s new job at the top of Sprint comes at a turbulent time for the wireless carrier. The company was pursuing a merger with T-Mobile valued at $50 billion, but that deal has reportedly been called off because of challenging regulatory hurdles. The network has nearly completed an equipment overhaul but still lags competitors in its speed for streaming video, downloading apps and many of the other features that make smartphones popular. Sprint had to invest massively to catch up, causing continuing losses and likely contributing to Hesse's replacement.

Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche, of Wells Fargo & Co. in Chicago, lauded Claure’s energy in an interview with Bloomberg News. “He’s young, he definitely brings an entrepreneurial spirit, which I think Sprint needs — that youth is an asset,” she said.

Claure did not grant interviews on Wednesday but said in a statement, “In the short-term, we will focus on becoming extremely cost efficient and competing aggressively in the marketplace. While consolidating makes sense in the long-term, for now, we will focus on growing and repositioning Sprint.”

Claure is the leader to do it, said Mike Tomas, a Miami healthcare executive who spent two decades in the telecom industry and knows Claure well.

“Marcelo is a brilliant visionary entrepreneur that identified a low-margin yet high-volume telecom opportunity at a time when the industry was imploding and most telecom insiders — myself included — were exiting and diversifying. He boldly founded Brightstar in Miami and put our telecom distribution network on several maps,” said Tomas.

Sprint will pay Claure $1.5 million a year in salary, on top of a $500,000 signing bonus, and provide potential performance-based bonuses that could be twice his salary or larger, according to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also will receive potential stock and options awards worth $24 million when granted to him, the filing said.

Claure will be resigning from Brightstar’s board of directors, and current board member Ronald Fisher will become chairman. Fisher is also the managing partner of SoftBank Capital and director and president of SoftBank Holdings, vice chairman of Sprint Corporation, and a member of the SoftBank board.

Brightstar will launch a global search for a CEO, the position Claure has held since inception. Arturo Osorio, president of Global Operations and a 10-year veteran of Brightstar, has been appointed president and chief operating officer and will report to the Brightstar board of directors in the interim.

Fisher and Osorio have big shoes to fill. In a Business Monday cover story in March, Claure projected Brightstar’s revenues would double this year. “It took us 16 years to get to $10 billion, and it’s going to take us one year to double that,” he told the Miami Herald. “Executing at that level requires a different set of people, different set of skills, different set of processes.”

The Kansas City Star and Bloomberg Business News contributed to this report. Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.