CMO merges conflicting cultures into one $35B wireless behemoth

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Mark Schweitzer has a tough act to follow.

The designated chief marketing officer of the company formed by Sprint Corp. and Nextel Communications is in charge of mapping out the second-biggest merger in the wireless-communications sector in the past year, building a new brand from the $35 billion union of two very different corporations.

Last year, Cingular Wireless' $41 billion acquisition of AT&T Wireless created the nation's largest wireless carrier. The takeover was executed deftly with coordinated marketing and a melded ad campaign which, by this spring, resulted in growing customer acquisitions and slowing churn.

This summer, Mr. Schweitzer will take his turn creating a single brand out of two.

"Even with the combined resources of Sprint and Nextel, we are up against two Goliaths in Cingular and Verizon," he said.

Merging No. 3 Sprint with No. 5 Nextel, Mr. Schweitzer is faced with a myriad of challenges. For one, Sprint and Nextel have two distinct customer targets: Sprint is primarily a consumer brand that depends on consumer's seemingly spontaneous impulses to buy, while Nextel is primarily a business-to-business brand where considered decisions prevail.

Culturally both companies are equally dissimilar, insiders said. For one, Nextel is an entrepreneurial enterprise where workers say Mr. Schweitzer, as Nextel senior VP, commissioned work from TBWA/Chiat/Day New York tagged "Done" that aptly captured the company's startup, fast-paced psyche.

`MERGER OF EQUALS'

Sprint, in contrast, recently was ranked last in customer care by a J.D. Power survey.

Mr. Schweitzer, 46, will need to portray the merger, at least publicly, as a "merger of equals." Where Cingular could turn off the AT&T brand name with a single stroke on a day of its choosing, Sprint has decided to go by the blended corporate name of Sprint Nextel, but it will be marketed as Sprint. Nextel will remain a unit within Sprint stores, with ads for both brands continuing. Sprint ads will carry a "together with Nextel" tag and Nextel tags will carry a "together with Sprint" line.

Solomon-like, he's picked Nextel's agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, to handle branding and consumer business, but retained Sprint's shop, Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, agency for business-to-business.

Perhaps no one is better suited to the task than Mr. Schweitzer, who literally has the genes for the job. His father is retired J. Walter Thompson CEO Peter Schweitzer who said he never encouraged Mark to go into the business. "He didn't need to be a junior me," said the elder Mr. Schweitzer.

His son grew up the eldest of six children, the rest sisters. Something of an ad brat, he enjoyed the free burger coupons when he was a prime fast-food target and hobnobbing with his father's colleagues. At Colgate University in the early `80s, his plan was to become a teacher and a coach. Instead, he wound up with a job at Warner Amex selling cable TV door to door. After stints at MCI and McCaw Cellular and Cellular One, and for a time Sprint, he landed at Nextel eight years ago. "He is literally the definition of a self-made man," his father said.

Already, Mr. Schweitzer has pulled off one of the most enviable coups. A Nextel employee at a party gleaned that the naming rights for the three decades running Nascar Winston Cup series were about to be brokered. Ten weeks later, Nextel bet on a $750 million, 10-year sponsorship. "I was surprised how fast the industry and the fans acceptance went after 32 years" of Winston sponsorship, Mr. Schweitzer said. With the merger, he will work with Nascar to decide whether-and/or how-to transition the sport's premier property, the Nextel Cup, into the Sprint brand.

The sponsorship is a key element in a race where both Cingular and Verizon Wireless individually spend about 50% more on measured media than Sprint and Nextel combined, and where the merged company is looking for the euphemistically termed media "efficiencies" after the government provides the official go-ahead and the anticipated initial $500 million launch campaign is over. "We are not bringing a spend-more mentality," Mr. Schweitzer said. "We'll `hit `em where they ain't,"' he said referencing Yogi Berra. He added he would "welcome a rational approach to future media spending in the wireless category."

Just Asking

His name for himself as 5-year-old Indian Guide: Straight Arrow

His name for his father in the father-son group: Bent Bow

His words to live by: "Don't sweat the small stuff. Focus on the big stuff." "Be humble enough to know when you are wrong and admit you're wrong." "Be confident in your decisions." "Be careful not to overthink."

What he learned from his father: "I admire his leadership style-he's never shy about telling folks he disagrees with and arguing with them."

What his father hoped he learned: "I hope he learned the value of hard work and listening. As my father told me, `You don't learn with your mouth. You learn with your ears."'

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