Sprint, Nextel Employees Compete to Keep Their Jobs

By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, August 11, 2005

While most of Washington's tech sector has sunk into heat-induced sedation, the folks over at Sprint Corp . and Nextel Communications Inc. are frenetically toiling away. As executives of the two companies wrap up a $35 billion merger, rank-and-file employees have been busy with a different task: interviewing for their own jobs.

Executives decided the most egalitarian way to staff the new company would be to put all of the positions up for grabs and let workers from both firms duke it out.

Not surprisingly, that has people from both Sprint and Nextel completely on edge.

"In many cases, there are two people filling a similar role -- one's from Sprint, one's from Nextel," said Paul Villella , chief executive of HireStrategy , a Reston staffing firm that has received dozens of inquiries from employees of the two companies who want to explore their options. "For many of them, the writing is on the wall, so they know they are going to be out of a job."

The companies have been open with their employees about how the process will unfold. The interviewing started at the highest levels of senior vice presidents and is working down through directors and mid-tier managers.

Richard P. Nespola , chief executive of TMNG Inc ., an Overland Park, Kan., consulting firm that is advising both Sprint and Nextel, said this method of integration is common for smaller firms but is rarely undertaken on such a large scale. Combined, the two firms have 80,000 employees, and while there's plenty of overlap, executives have not said how many positions will be cut.

The interviewing process has caused "quite a lot of scurrying around," according to one person close to the companies, because employees don't know exactly what kind of competition they're up against in vying for their own jobs.

Audrey Schaefer , Nextel's spokeswoman, said the nervousness that abounds is a natural reaction to the uncertainty created by any merger.

"What we're trying to do is be sensitive to that and communicate as candidly and openly and frequently as possible," Schaefer said.

Schaefer went through the process herself recently. She, for one, will keep her job.

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If the scene in front of Tysons Corner night spot eCitie Restaurant & Bar in any way reflects the health of the local technology economy, then things aren't looking too shabby.

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