Sprint Seeks New Blood for Cable JV

After 18 months as president of Sprint Nextel’s joint venture with four cable operators, John Garcia needs some new business cards again.

Sprint moved Garcia into its marketing division, where he’ll be senior vice president of product management and development, and hired former BellSouth executive Keith Cowan as president of strategic planning and corporate initiatives, overseeing the JV.

The venture, which offers mobile calling services under the Pivot brand through cable operators, is not exactly turning on a dime: The company has not yet found a permanent replacement for Garcia. Jim Patterson — currently VP of cable solutions — was named “acting president” of the JV, focusing on cable-partner relationships, planning and technology integration.

In his new role, Garcia will continue to be responsible for product development for the Pivot service, as well as Sprint’s mobile virtual network operator program. Garcia, who previously reported to chairman and CEO Gary Forsee, now reports to chief marketing officer Tim Kelly.

“John developed and implemented the sales, distribution, handset and marketing strategies that drove Sprint’s initial growth in the wireless industry, and he is uniquely qualified to assert our advantages in this competitive marketplace,” Forsee said in a prepared statement.

A.G. Edwards telecommunications analyst Kent Custer said Sprint has had “more-than-normal movement in the executive ranks” and said Cowan’s appointment would consolidate the number of Forsee’s direct reports.

With regard to Garcia, “what’s important is that he is going to keep providing continuity on the Pivot brand,” Custer said. He added that it’s not necessarily a demotion for Garcia: “Their marketing and strategic positioning is more important to them than the cable JV, which is pretty small.”

Garcia was appointed president of the cable JV in January 2006, after serving as senior VP of strategic partners in Sprint’s consumer group. Sprint then expanded his role in October, giving him responsibility for voice-over-Internet-protocol services provided to cable.

The four cable operators who formed the JV with Sprint in November 2005 — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Advance/Newhouse Communications — have taken a “go-slow” approach to ramping up the Sprint-provided mobile phone service.

Comcast and Time Warner said they have signed up several thousand Pivot customers since soft-launching service in a handful of markets in late 2006, while Advance/Newhouse’s Bright House Networks has yet to launch an initial trial.

A.G. Edwards’ Custer said there’s no indication the cable joint venture is not working. “There have been some complaints they haven’t moved fast enough, but this kind of joint venture takes time.” He anticipates Sprint reporting meaningful revenue from the JV — assuming the companies hit their target of rolling out to 40 markets this year — in mid-2008.

Cowan, 51, will be in charge of Sprint’s overall strategic planning as well as the cable JV and the 4G Mobile Broadband initiative, reporting to Forsee.

Most recently, Cowan was executive VP at Genuine Parts, which operates 1,100 NAPA Auto Parts stores in more than 40 states. Before joining Genuine Parts in February, Cowan spent more than a decade at BellSouth (now part of AT&T), where his positions included chief planning and development officer and chief field-operations officer.