Sprint Nextel Chairman Timothy Donahue
Sprint Nextel Chairman Timothy Donahue - 

KAI RYSSDAL: Sprint Nextel is the number three U.S. cell phone company. Not a *bad position to be in. But it's a cutthroat industry. Sprint's been having a rough year. And it got a little rougher today. The company announced the executive chairman of board, Tim Donahue, wants to spend more time with his family. Diantha Parker reports.

DIANTHA PARKER: Donahue oversaw the merger of Sprint and Nextel about a year ago, but independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan says it's common for one CEO to bow out when two of them are eligible for the corner office.

JEFF KAGAN: It's like getting two captains on the bridge. There's really only room in a company for one.

Donahue took a more deferential tone in a company statement, saying he'll start cheering Sprint Nextel along from the sidelines.

Remember those ads that showed a pin dropping in front of an old school telephone receiver? Sprint would prefer you didn't.

Over the past five years, it's changed from a local and long-distance phone service company to one that's now the third-largest wireless provider in the U.S.

In the midst of that transition, Sprint has stepped into a very competitive industry, says Scott Cleland of the telecom research firm The Precursor Group.

SCOTT CLELAND: The marketplace wants immediate gratification, and if it's surprised or doesn't get what it wants, it's very unforgiving.

The company won't say when they'll name a replacement. But analysts expect it'll be someone with experience in Sprint Nextel's new business: wireless and Internet service.

In Los Angeles, I'm Diantha Parker for Marketplace.