Qwest Communications International announced Monday that Richard C. Notebaert, the firm's chairman and chief executive officer, would resign the two positions as soon as a successor is found and hired.
The smallest of the former Regional Bell Operating Companies, Qwest had been sinking in the wake of an accounting scandal when Notebaert took over the company in 2002. He was widely credited with stabilizing the firm, although Qwest's relatively small size and lack of its own cell phone operation continue to hamper the Denver-based company.
"I will leave the company only when the board has selected a leader who shares our vision and will continue to guide Qwest's solid performance and reputation as a leading national communications provider with a very bright future," Notebaert said in a statement.
Notebaert, 59, had been seeking a successor in recent months, but few experienced top-level telecommunications executives were interested, according to media reports.
Notebaert launched some bold efforts at Qwest. A drive to garner a top position in the federal government's massive $48 billion Networx contract was successful and assures the firm of a healthy revenue stream for years to come. An attempt to acquire MCI failed when Verizon Communications, with its huge financial resources, outbid the smaller firm.
Notebaert is the second former RBOC head to announce his retirement in recent weeks: In April, AT&T's chief executive Edward Whitacre Jr., announced his retirement. Whitacre and Notebaert worked together in 1998 when Whitacre directed a $62 billion takeover of Ameritech, where Notebaert had been chairman. The two executives presided over much of the reassembling of the old AT&T, which had been broken up more than two decades ago. Verizon Communications, also formed from numerous reassemblings of older AT&T units, is the third surviving RBOC.
After Notebaert took over Qwest in 2002, he inherited a massive accounting scandal, poor employee morale, and low customer service ratings. (Joseph Nacchio, former Qwest CEO, was convicted of insider trading violations earlier this spring.)
Employee morale is said to be higher at Qwest and customer service ratings have jumped from a dismal last place in the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index to a place near the top of recent rankings for telecommunications companies.
Notebaert was a member of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He was elected chairman of the board of trustees of Notre Dame University in February.