How much is an outgoing finance chief worth to a company? For telecommunications provider CenturyLink the answer is roughly $2 billion in market value.
CenturyLink stock closed down 8.08% on Tuesday on news that Chief Financial Officer Sunit Patel is leaving the Monroe, La., company to join T-Mobile U.S. Inc. to lead the wireless company’s integration with Sprint The losses pushed the company’s market value to $22.7 billion as of Tuesday’s close, according to data from FactSet.
Mr. Patel’s departure comes at a vulnerable time for CenturyLink, which is 11 months into its integration with Level 3 Communications Inc., a deal that essentially doubled the size of the company.
Analysts said Monday after the announcement that Mr. Patel’s long tenure and track record of successful business integrations and prudent financial management are a loss for CenturyLink.
Mr. Patel spent more than 14 years as finance chief of Level 3 prior to its sale to CenturyLink. Throughout his tenure, he kept Level 3 out of bankruptcy and steered the company through a challenging turnaround.
“Level 3’s success cannot be understated as the carrier was one of the few to not only survive but thrive following the telco crash that lasted through the mid-2000s,” Gregory Williams, an analyst at Cowen & Co., said in a note to clients.
Mr. Patel is “an expert at company integrations” and his exit raises the risks surrounding the union of CenturyLink and Level 3, Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Timothy Horan said in a note to clients.
CenturyLink named Neel Dev, who is currently CenturyLink’s group vice president of finance, as interim CFO and is launching a search for Mr. Patel’s replacement.
Jeff Storey, CenturyLink’s chief executive, highlighted the finance chief’s work on developing a strong talent bench in the finance organization.
“As Sunit focused on our external stakeholders, Neel has been our de facto operational CFO and part of my management team for the past ten years,” Mr. Storey said in a statement. “I am highly confident he will continue our drumbeat of financial discipline across CenturyLink with a focus on synergy attainment, operating efficiency and profitable growth."