It’s easy to look smart when times are good. What separates winners from losers are the moves their leaders make when times are hard. two CEOs explain their shrewdest move of 2002. Edited

William T. Esrey
Chairman and CEO, Sprint
Overland Park, Kansas

After Enron, the financial markets started putting pressure on the commercial paper of even the biggest companies in the country. Commercial paper is short-term unsecured debt.}} Sprint had $3.5 billion of commercial paper outstanding, and in February, we decided to pursue long-term financing on about $2 billion of that amount. When we went to the market, we had the opportunity to do not just $2 billion, but $5 billion. We took that opportunity and got out of the commercial-paper market altogether.

Thank goodness we did. The financial markets continued to erode, and the cost of financing in the telecom industry shot up — for companies that could get financing in the first place. Had we waited just a little bit longer, it would have been much more expensive. There’s a question of whether we could have done it at all.

Investors just don’t want to touch this industry right now. That will change, and the financial markets will see that communications is fundamental to the economy, with solid companies, solid products, and good customers. In the meantime, we don’t have to go back to the financing table for years. That move — whether it was lucky or smart — was one of the best that we made last year.

William T. Esrey became CEO of Sprint in 1985. He spearheaded the company’s entry into long distance in 1984, as well as its construction of AN all-digital fiber-optic network and A wireless personal-communications network (PCS) in 1994.