Sprint's CEO pick keeps long-distance link to Cape Girardeau

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Gary Forsee, a Central High School grad, still communicates with his classmates

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

Thirty-five years before he gained national attention as Sprint's choice for one of the most powerful jobs in the telecommunications industry, Gary Forsee had another interesting -- if somewhat less prestigious -- position.

He was a Central Tiger.

Forsee, who Sprint Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., hopes to appoint as its CEO in 30 days, is a 1968 Cape Girardeau Central High School graduate who ran track, played for the basketball team and was home-room president.

"He was a strong leader and was very intelligent," said Pat Godwin, a Proctor & Gamble manager who went to high school and then college with Forsee at the University of Missouri at Rolla.

"He put a lot of thought into everything he did," Godwin said. "If he was committed to doing something, you could count on it being done for sure."

From early on, Godwin said that people recognized the makings of a success.

"Anyone could have seen from college that Gary was going to be very successful," he said.

He has been. Forsee has an engineering degree and 30 years experience in telecommunications. He has overseen government contracts and run divisions that cater to the needs of business customers. He has experience with operations from the United States to Mexico to Europe.

Forsee, now 52, was only in Cape Girardeau a relatively short time: He moved here in 1966 when his father became director of the local Social Security office. Forsee moved away to go to college at Rolla, Mo., when he graduated from high school.

But while he was here, he made many lasting friendships and keeps in contact with several people in Cape Girardeau. He even has attended a few reunions here in the past few years, said Dr. Jay Sheets, a Cape Girardeau oral surgeon who also graduated from Central in 1968.

"He was a real people-person," Sheets said Tuesday. "He is a very sincere, likable person. I talk to him occasionally, and he still has allegiance and fond memories of Cape Girardeau. He never gives a clue to the elevation he's achieved in the business world."

Everyone loves a local-boy-does-good story. Forsee's position with Sprint is a bit tenuous, however. When Sprint approached him about the job, Forsee was an executive at BellSouth Corp. in Atlanta.

BellSouth reacted with a restraining order Jan. 31 when it learned that Forsee, a former 10-year Sprint executive and currently vice chairman-domestic operations at BellSouth, was negotiating a return to Sprint.

BellSouth pointed to its employment agreement with Forsee, which bars him from competing with BellSouth for 18 months after he leaves the company and from disclosing confidential information and trade secrets.

On Monday, an Atlanta judge extended the restraining order that temporarily bars Forsee from joining Sprint. That was because Forsee last week had moved to dissolve the restraining order, arguing that the provisions were too broad and unenforceable under Georgia law.

But the judge also ordered that BellSouth and Forsee, its No. 2 executive, complete arbitration within 30 days. That means that Sprint hopes to resolve the matter and hire Foresee when the arbitration period is over. An arbitrator will take evidence on whether it's possible for Forsee to work for Sprint without disclosing information about BellSouth. Forsee has said he could.

"He'll get through all that," said Mike Bristow, a 1968 Central graduate and friend of Forsee. "I'm sure he'll come out in a good way. He's very well thought of in the telecom industry. He's got all the merit badges. He's had a lot of important jobs, each one being a little bigger than the one before. We must have taught him well while he was in Cape."

Bristow now works in Denver for an investment firm, but he talks with or e-mails Forsee several times a year. He said Forsee's demeanor has always worked to his benefit.

"He was friendly, but a bit reserved," Bristow said. "Gary was not a ready-fire-aim kind of guy. He thought things out. It'd be hard to find anybody to say anything bad about Gary Forsee."

Sheets said he's not surprised both companies want to keep him.

"He never brings up his accomplishments," he said. "He's a very humble person. I'm proud to know him, and Cape Girardeau should be proud he grew up here."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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