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Fernando Corona

Leap's Corona developing new markets for wireless service

Fernando Corona, vice president for channel development for Leap Wireless International Inc. (Nasdaq: LEAP), has spent the last 30 years surfing some of the most crowded and competitive beach breaks in all of California.

It's no surprise, then, that he has been able to rise up and bring Leap to the crest of the ever-growing wireless wave.

The company, originally a spin-off of Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM), had flattened out in 2003. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2004, launched Jump Mobile and reached 2 million subscribers in 2006.

"We are continuing to grow at a pretty good clip," Corona said.

He came on board in 2005 with more than 20 years of experience in management, sales and marketing. His charge was to bring Leap's Cricket wireless service into new sales channels.

In 2006, Cricket launched in 14 new markets across the nation, from San Diego to Portland, Houston to Louisville and onward.

Now, with licenses for 35 of the top 50 markets, Leap has doubled in size.

"It's about adding efficiencies into the business and applying them to real user experiences -- like making (the process of) buying upgrades much more pleasant," Corona said.

He stressed the importance of reading market trends and connecting to customers by offering them choices to meet their needs.

Cricket, with its affordable, flat-rate service plans that include unlimited voice, text, data and mobile Web services, suits a younger market -- the generation that has cut the land line cord and roams the cities with mobile phones.

"It is about providing a good product," Corona said. "We continue to add value to respond not only to our company needs but to customer needs as well."

Corona also defines the company's success by its partnerships. "The better we partner, the better we can execute," he said. "You have to go to areas of expertise."

Leap and its partner, Denali Spectrum LLC, were the highest bidders on 100 federally auctioned licenses at a cost of $984 million. The Federal Communications Commission sale of Advanced Wireless Services licenses gave Leap and Denali access to markets in Washington, D.C.; Chicago; New Orleans; Baltimore; Minneapolis; St. Louis; Oklahoma City; Philadelphia; Las Vegas; Norfolk and Richmond, Va.; Seattle; and Milwaukee.

"We've got some very good legs ahead of us," Corona said, emphasizing his team's hard work.

As an employee of Leap, you have to have "lots of energy," he said. And "you've got to have the ability to adapt very quickly to change."

That sounds a bit like the surfer in Corona. To spin around in the crowd and take off on a big wave at Swamis requires all the same perceptiveness, boldness and instant decision-making.

"I've always said that there's never really a right answer but a set of answers -- and the execution is the thing," Corona said.

Chung Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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