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What Does Marcelo Claure’s Hiring As Sprint’s CEO Mean For Latinos?

Image: File photo of former soccer player Beckham and founder of Brightstar Corp. Claure applauding before Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat in Miami, Florida

Former soccer player David Beckham (R) and founder of mobile phone distributor Brightstar Corp. Marcelo Claure applaud before Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat in Miami, Florida in this May 30, 2013 file photo. Reuters

New Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure stepped into his new job running the No. 3 wireless carrier in the country this week.

The Bolivian immigrant who started with a small cell phone retail business went on to build the telecommunications company Brightstar, which saw sales of $6.3 billion last year, according to Forbes, and was valued at about $2.2 billion. He sold the business just before being tapped by its buyer, SoftBank, to head Sprint.

Claure has been a member of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for years. His hiring at Sprint to shore up the carrier’s position behind AT&T and Verizon has implications for Latinos and Latino-owned businesses, said Javier Palomarez, the chamber’s president and CEO, who sat down with NBC News Latino to discuss Claure’s hiring.

“He is the consummate outsider as it relates to what you see out there in terms of CEOs in the space,” Palomarez said.

“Marcelo’s going to bring a sense of energy and a real, I think, sense of urgency to the Sprint organization,” Palomarez said. “He also walks in the door already, literally in his DNA, but certainly in his way of thinking, much more international in scope.

The two have been friends through the chamber and in 2009 the USHCC gave Claure its Hispanic Businessman of the Year Award in 2011.

Claure’s Brightstar $10.2 billion company has a presence in 125 countries, with a good part of his business built on selling equipment in Latin America, Palomarez said.

Image: Javier Palomarez, executive director of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy of USHCC

Palomarez is a former Sprint employee in marketing and sales. The company is a funder of the chamber, but so are AT&T and Verizon, at much higher levels, Palomarez said.

“Of all the sectors in our economy, there are few that are more global and that are more rapidly evolving into global play than telecommunications, so who better than a guy who grew in the international market to run the Sprint organization?” Palomarez said.

The fact that 95 percent of the global market is outside the U.S., combined with Claure’s international experience, “it really informs potentially where Sprint is going to be headed,” he said.

Like the Latino community itself, which skews younger than the general U.S. population, Claure at 43 is younger than his peers at AT&T and Verizon. Randall Stephenson is 54 and Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, was born in 1954.

“If you look at the Hispanic community’s use of mobile technology and cellular services, we over index when compared to every other demographic,” said Javier Palomarez, USHCC president and CEO.

Claure has moved from Miami to Kansas City, headquarters of Sprint, based at a sprawling 200-acre campus in Overland Park, Kansas, on the outskirts of Kansas City. That has taken him and his family from the sprawl of Miami-Dade County that is about 66 percent Latino, with a significant diversity within the Latino community, to the Midwest city of about 467,000 that is about 10 percent Latino.

But Kansas and Missouri have seen significant growth in their Latino populations over the decade from 2000 to 2010, Census figures show. The community grew by 59 percent in Kansas and 79 percent in Missouri in that decade.

Latinos have long roots in the area, working in the railroad industry that helped build the region and in its agricultural industry. The population expansion represents the growth potential for business among Latinos.

“If you look at the Hispanic community’s use of mobile technology and cellular services, we over index when compared to every other demographic,” Palomarez said.

“So here’s this burgeoning market, $1.4 trillions worth of purchasing power ... Suffice it to say, you’ve got this amazing market that skews younger by 10 years, that’s growing in terms of earning power and purchasing power at a rate twice what the general market is growing,” Palomarez said. “So while the rest of the market is graying, this market is coming into its own and you have at the helm at the third largest telecomm company in the country a Latino who understands that dynamic."

It won’t be easy for Claure. Sprint is in third place with a large gap between it and No. 2 AT&T. But it has been losing subscribers and revenue. It gave up a plan to buy T-Mobile, a closer No.4, and Claure has indicated he would be cutting operational costs, according to reports.

But Latino business owners could see some benefits as Claure reshapes the company and reduces prices in rate plans. Latinos are starting new ventures at a rate of 3-1 and Hispanic business owners “are telling us that they disproportionately use cellular communication and mobile technology when compared to the general market,” Palomarez said.

"While the rest of the market is graying, this [Latino] market is coming into its own and you have at the helm at the third largest telecomm company in the country a Latino who understands that dynamic," said Palomarez.

Palomarez likes to remind that Claure began his work selling handsets out of the back of his car before eventually selling in emerging Latin American and other markets.

“What he saw was an opportunity, where others didn’t see it. Everyone was looking at those same handsets and everybody else in the industry was tossing those handsets out, selling them for pennies on the dollar,” Palomarez said. “It’s more indicative of the fact that he sees opportunity where others don’t.”