‘I Still Get Crucified’ Over the iPhone, Says Sprint Chief Hesse

Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who was at the Mobile World Congress in Spain last month, said he feels 'crucified' over the iPhone.

The iPhone was supposed to stop Sprint Nextel from bleeding subscribers, but martyrdom for Dan Hesse, the carrier’s chief executive, seems to have no end.

“I still get crucified for deciding to carry the Apple iPhone because the investment is significant and the payoffs are long term,” Hesse said at a Fortune conference. “I deal with that quite a bit.”

Yes, he has. It began in October after a report said Sprint had committed to purchase 30.5 million iPhones for $20 billion. Then in February, Sprint reported widening losses for the first quarter it offered the iPhone, and the stock took a hit. Sprint’s stock dropped again last month when Sanford C. Bernstein downgraded the company to underperform amid concern that it won’t sell enough iPhones to afford its “punishing” commitment with Apple.

The topic of the discussion at today’s conference was corporate environmental sustainability.

“A lot of these environmental investments don’t hit that payoff period,” Hesse said. “The Street likes the expense savings, but the environmental benefits go right over their heads.”

A question about how to convince a company’s board of directors, which reports to Wall Street, to invest in “green” initiatives prompted Hesse’s rant about investors, and about their short-term view on spending for the iPhone and on overhauls to Sprint’s cell network.

“There is a disconnect with Wall Street because if you’re building a brand, it does take a long time,” he said. “It’s hard to quantify.”

During the holiday quarter, Sprint said it sold 1.8 million iPhones. During the same quarter, AT&T Mobility sold 7.6 million iPhones, and Verizon Wireless sold 4.2 million.

Updated: Corrects the types of iPhones Sprint offers. The carrier sells the iPhone 4 and 4S.

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