--T-Mobile USA chief executive steps down abruptly
--Philipp Humm leaving to join competitor in Europe
--Search for replacement already under way, company says
(Updates with analyst comments and statement from interim CEO Jim Alling beginning in the 10th paragraph.)
By Thomas Gryta and Philipp Grontzki
T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE.XE, DTEGY), said Wednesday that Chief Executive Philipp Humm has resigned to take a job with an unidentified competitor in Europe.
The company named Jim Alling, chief operating officer of T-Mobile USA, as interim chief executive and said a search for a successor is already under way. The move comes as the wireless company is struggling to keep up with larger U.S. rivals and upgrade its network after AT&T Inc.'s (T) $39 billion bid to acquire the company fell apart amid antitrust concerns.
Deutsche Telekom Chief Executive Rene Obermann has said selling the T-Mobile USA unit is unlikely, but the company is exploring other options, including the sale of its wireless tower portfolio.
Mr. Humm declined to comment on the situation Wednesday, noting that doing so "would be inappropriate." He said it would become clear in "a few days" where he is going to work next, but he declined to elaborate.
In a letter to T-Mobile USA staff released Wednesday, Mr. Obermann said Mr. Humm informed the company in April that he intended to leave at the end of September so he could return to his family in Europe. Mr. Humm's exit was sped up after he informed Mr. Obermann "a few days ago" that he would be joining a competitor of Deutsche Telekom.
A spokesman for Deutsche Telekom declined to name Mr. Humm's new employer.
In a press release Wednesday, Mr. Obermann said Mr. Humm gave the company "some important initiatives over the past years," including improving costs at the U.S. unit, but now the company needs "somebody who can convert initiatives into market successes."
Mr. Obermann said in the letter that he has spoken to "a number of promising candidates" to succeed Mr. Humm.
Mr. Humm's successor will face a daunting set of challenges. T-Mobile USA is in the midst of a multiyear upgrade of its network as it scrambles to make up for time lost while the planned merger with AT&T was under review.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Jonathan Atkin said any new chief executive is likely to maintain the company's current direction because there is so much committed to the turnaround plans.
"I don't think this is the time to make major changes to the strategy," he said.
In a letter to employees Wednesday, Mr. Alling said he is committed to the current strategy and leading the company to growth.
Deutsche Telekom has made it clear that it wants to exit from the U.S. business, but industry observers don't expect the company to get anything near the $39 billion valuation that AT&T was willing to pay because business has deteriorated. Some on Wall Street have speculated that the company would merge, or partner, with Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), a company that also has struggled against larger rivals AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ).
T-Mobile USA remains the only major U.S. wireless carrier without Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone, a popular draw for many subscribers. Mr. Humm has previously said the iPhone is a major reason T-Mobile lost 1.7 million contract customers last year.
Mr. Humm joined Deutsche Telekom in 2005, and was initially responsible for the company's mobile business in Germany.
He stepped down from that position in November 2008, taking responsibility for a massive breach of customer data in 2006, when around 17 million T-Mobile customers' data were stolen. Mr. Humm has led T-Mobile since November 2010.
Write to Thomas Gryta at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Greg Bensinger contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 27, 2012 17:38 ET (21:38 GMT)
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