Qwest's Notebaert Heads for the Door

The CEO will retire once a replacement is found.
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Qwest (Q) CEO Dick Notebaert plans to call it quits.

The telecom executive, who helped steer the Rocky Mountain phone giant out of financial trouble after replacing the controversial Joe Nacchio five years ago, says he wants to spend more time with his family.

Notebaert gave no timeframe for his departure. He will continue to serve as chairman and chief executive until a replacement is found.

"Dick's leadership in the transformation of Qwest has exceeded all expectations. He will leave the company well positioned for future growth and truly will be missed," Qwest board member Frank Popoff said in a press release.

Qwest had been on the brink of bankruptcy when Notebaert took over. He managed to keep Qwest afloat through cost cuts and asset sales like the company's lucrative directory business.

Two years ago, Notebaert made a rich bid for long distance telco MCI that shook investors. But

Verizon's

(VZ) - Get Report

30% lower bid prevailed and Qwest had to walk away.

In October, with the company in the black, Notebaert and the Qwest board authorized a special dividend totaling $2 billion to reward shareholders.

Most recently, Notebaert had Qwest adopt a fiber optic expansion plan

similar to

AT&T's

(T) - Get Report

so-called fiber to the node upgrade. The strategy is cheaper than hooking up homes with fiber optic cable, but still provides enough broadband capacity to eventually offer video services as part of a triple-play package.

Observers will point out that adopting AT&T's fiber strategy aligns the company closely with a highly acquisitive player and possibly offers Notebaert a sweet exit.

Qwest shares rose 26 cents to $10.43 in early trading Monday.