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Sprint Elevates Wireless Chief

The move comes as the wireless industry enjoys a summer surge.

The top exec at Sprint PCS (PCS) is the latest beneficiary of the wireless industry's summer hot streak.

Len Lauer, who was charged with reviving

Sprint's

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wireless unit after it nearly ran aground last year, will take the chief operating officer post at the parent company. The appointment makes him the big phone company's No. 2 executive as it moves toward rejoining the two businesses under one roof.

The move marks the re-emergence of the once-struggling wireless service provider and comes as the wireless industry enjoys a broad rally. The latest executive shuffle at Sprint also puts Lauer in line behind CEO Gary Forsee, whose brief reign at the top of the big phone company has been tumultuous to say the least. On Wednesday, Sprint rose 11 cents to $14.94, and Sprint PCS fell 9 cents to $5.66.

Giving Credit

Industry observers say Lauer's advancement has a lot to do with his success in fixing the PCS unit's many problems. Lauer took over Sprint PCS last year after the company posted its first-ever net customer loss. Observers say Sprint's board deemed unacceptable the prospect of losing customers as the industry continued to grow rapidly.

Under Lauer, PCS slashed its workforce and cracked down on lax sales practices. The company moved to tighten its credit standards and cut its exposure to deadbeats.

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Lauer's promotion suggests the company may be making organizational changes as it moves closer to its stated goal of eventually recombining the company's two stocks. PCS is a so-called tracking stock that represents no underlying company assets but was intended to offer investors a way to play the wireless business.

As part of the executive promotion press release, Forsee reiterated the company's plans. "While we have no timetable for recombining our tracking stocks, we continue to believe, as we said at our annual shareholders meeting, that a recombination of the stocks is likely at some point."

Timing's Everything

The timing of the promotion also a likely signal that PCS business is enjoying a good quarter, say some analysts. Due to its rehabilitation program, PCS has largely been sidelined during the current wireless rally. Some believe Lauer's ascent means the PCS group has stopped the big losses and may be on the way to break-even.

Though Lauer's new job description puts him in charge of Sprint's sales and marketing operations, his duties are also likely to include strategy planning, given the restrictions placed on CEO Forsee.

In April, a federal arbitrator ruled that Forsee's role as a top executive at

BellSouth

(BLS)

made him privy to sensitive strategy matters, and barred him from such discussions as mergers and asset sales. Forsee came to Sprint after former CEO Bill Esrey and COO Ron Lemay were fired for their participation in a controversial tax shelter.