Internet service provider EarthLink (Nasdaq: ELNK ) has been without a CEO since Garry Betty passed away in January, taken by cancer at a fairly young 49. His replacement was named yesterday, and it's industry veteran Rolla Huff.
Huff's career in communications management has included leading roles at AT&T (NYSE: T ) Wireless, data service expert NCR (NYSE: NCR ) , and Global Crossing (Nasdaq: GLBC ) . Most recently, he ran regional DSL and telephone company Mpower Communications until that company was sold to privately held US TelePacific last year for $204 million.
Huff walks into his new job with some swagger, spending $750,000 of his own money on EarthLink stock. "I don't put down three quarters of a million dollars trivially," he says, "but I think I'm going to get a great return."
You'd think the guy knows something about investments. Several of his past jobs have included CFO duties -- where he wasn't CEO or president -- and his expertise is in financial planning.
On the other hand, he's known for brash optimism at the start of a new challenge. When he joined Mpower in 1999, the company relocated its headquarters from Las Vegas to New York State just to accommodate him, and the plan was to take the regional business nationwide in "months rather than years."
That never happened. Mpower served only three states when it was sold seven years later. Maybe that's why Huff is tempering his bright outlook with more of a careful approach this time. He says he'll take at least two months to get a fuller understanding of his new business before really doing anything. And: "It's all about execution. At the end of the day, I won't be judged on my plan as much as my execution."
Indeed. EarthLink has ambitious plans for becoming a municipal Wi-Fi powerhouse, and we'll see how far Huff can take the company down that road -- and how fast.
After the initial co-announcement with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) to blanket the San Francisco area with free, ad-supported Wi-Fi signals in 2006, EarthLink has continued to implement its Wi-Fi municipal networks in several other cities on its own, with upbeat reports on usage and revenue from the venture.
There's also the Helio mobile phone service, launched in collaboration with South Korean cell network SK Telecom. It's an effort to market the sort of mobile devices that are popular in Korea to a young, affluent American market, using a 3G Network leased from Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) .
Huff is known for a willingness to cut unprofitable business segments, and he might prune EarthLink a bit two months down the road. Will it be municipal Wi-Fi, or Helios, or maybe the old-school fixed Internet access business? Wait and see.
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Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure always gives you a great signal.