Update: Sprint PCS President Resigns - TheStreet

Updated from 12:26 p.m. EDT

Sprint PCS

(PCS)

Friday announced that Andrew Sukawaty was stepping down as president and chief operating officer.

The wireless telephone company said Sukawaty, 44, was leaving to pursue "a new opportunity," but it didn't elaborate.

His resignation was unexpected, said Tom Murphy, a Sprint PCS spokesman. Murphy said the company didn't have a replacement for Sukawaty at this point.

Ronald T. LeMay, president and chief operating officer of the wireless company's parent,

Sprint

(FON)

, will replace Sukawaty for an interim period of an unknown length, Murphy said. Sukawaty will act as a consultant to LeMay during the next month.

Shares of Sprint PCS closed up 13/16, or 2%, at 63 1/4. Sprint's stock closed down 1, or 2%, at 57 9/16.

Sukawaty said in a statement that his decision to leave the fourth start-up venture in which he has been involved has been a difficult one. He said he would provide more information about his next position at a later date.

The departure comes as

WorldCom

(WCOM)

, the second-largest long-distance company, is trying to get regulatory approval to buy Sprint.

Despite what the company said, Thomas H. Lee, an analyst for

Chase H&Q

, said the resignation was not a surprise. He said many senior managers did not sign retention agreements related to the Sprint-WorldCom merger, and Sukawaty's opportunities to realize "tremendous wealth" in a new position were "astronomical."

"I think he was being courted very aggressively," Lee said. He added that Sukawaty's departure creates a risk that other senior managers could resign from the company as well. "It's going to be a matter of finding a very strong replacement for Andrew."

Sukawaty joined Sprint PCS as chief executive officer in 1996 and became president and chief operating officer in December 1998 when Sprint acquired financial and management control of the joint venture between Sprint,

TeleCommunications

,

Comcast

(CCZ) - Get Report

and

Cox Communications

(COX)

.

Lee said Sukawaty "provided incredible internal leadership" in an effort that helped Sprint PCS become the fastest-growing wireless company in the U.S., pushing its stock market capitalization to $62 billion from $7 billion. Sukawaty negotiated "very strong" content agreements with data partners and "very aggressive" handset sales through companies including Qualcomm and Samsung, Lee said. He added that Sukawaty created "some of the most innovative" pricing plans. "He'll be very sorely missed," Lee said. Chase H&Q has a buy rating on Sprint PCS. It has done no recent underwriting for the company.

LeMay was chief executive of

Sprint Spectrum

from 1995 to 1996 before the company became Sprint PCS.

LeMay said in a statement that Sprint PCS "has grown from a few thousand customers to 7 million and has become the fastest-growing wireless personal communications services provider in United States history. That is testimony to his contribution."