LAS VEGAS—Just who is Bill Morrow, the new CEO of Clearwire who joined the company about three weeks ago?
Morrow was in town for CTIA Wireless 2009, giving folks a chance to meet the man charged with steering Clearwire through its next stage.
Known as a “turn-around” guru, he was tapped more than once to lead business units of Vodafone, both in Japan and Europe. He was instrumental in crafting the deal that led to Vodafone selling its Japanese operations to Softbank. At one point, he was heir apparent to former Vodafone chief Arun Surin, but he and his family needed to move back to the United States for personal reasons.
That decision to return to the States led to his taking the position of president and CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E, in California. He gave that company two years, then decided it was time to get back into telecom. Late last year, he began searching for his next move – right about the time the market crashed and burned.
Morrow had plenty of head hunters working for him, and he was in between considering several possibilities when Clearwire called.
“I did my due diligence,” he said, noting there were advisors who at the start expressed doubt. But as he started to learn more and dig deeper, “we all came to the conclusion this is much bigger than what people realize,” he says.
The folks on the Clearwire side also did their due diligence, as he learned from friends who were wondering what he was up to. “I almost felt like I was dealing with the FBI,” he quips.
Morrow met with then-CEO Ben Wolff and Clearwire founder and Chairman Craig McCaw, as well as two board members. Actually, he met with Wolff on a Wednesday and with McCaw the following day. Then he was vetted by board members, went through the contract negotiation process and was in the Clearwire office on the following Monday. That ability to make decisions fast – especially when you’ve got many big-name players (i.e., Sprint, Intel) in the mix, was a good sign, he says. It was less than three weeks from his first call to the day he started.
Morrow is just getting settled into his new role, but for now, “I don’t think there’s a technology war that we need to worry about,” he says, adding that Clearwire is in a position to be an LTE provider in the future, but in the same sentence, it must be stated that Clearwire’s first-to-market advantages are big, he says. WiMAX is ahead of LTE, and Clearwire will push the pedal to keep that advantage, he says.
Morrow’s job at Clearwire isn’t from a turn-around perspective so much as taking the company to its next stage of growth. “We have to think about it in different terms than as a startup,” he says.