- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

CLINTON, Miss. (AP) Bernard J. Ebbers, who built WorldCom Inc. into a global telecommunications giant but then saw its fortunes and stock price crumble amid fierce industry competition and questions about the company's finances, has resigned as its chief executive and president.
WorldCom said yesterday that Vice Chairman John Sidgmore would succeed Mr. Ebbers in both positions. Bert Roberts remains chairman.
Company spokesman Brad Burns said Mr. Ebbers and board members met Friday to discuss the company's situation, and those talks continued Saturday. Mr. Ebbers resigned Monday.
WorldCom, one of the darlings of Wall Street a few years ago, has seen investors turn against it in recent months over concerns about the company's $28 billion in debt and an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into lending and accounting practices.
Its long-distance business, the nation's second-largest after AT&T; Corp., also has come under pressure from industrywide discounting.
Mr. Ebbers, a Canadian who attended Mississippi College in Clinton on a basketball scholarship, built WorldCom from a small long-distance company into a telecommunications force through more than 60 acquisitions in the past 15 years.
The rapid-fire growth was stopped in its tracks in 2000 when federal and European regulators blocked WorldCom's proposed $129 billion merger with Sprint Corp., citing competition concerns.
Since then, the dealmaking has dwindled and so has WorldCom's earnings growth. In April, the company said it was eliminating 3,700 jobs in the United States, or about 4.4 percent of its global work force, to better align costs with projected revenue this year.
"Business conditions remain as challenging as ever, but it seems as if Bernie had been sort of a lightning rod in terms of drawing attention," said David Burks, an analyst with J.J.B. Hilliard, W.L. Lyons in Louisville, Ky. "Maybe his departure lessens some of the negative publicity surrounding the company."
Mr. Sidgmore has served as vice chairman since 1996 and as the company's chief operations officer from December 1996 to September 1998. He previously ran the company's Internet business.
Mr. Burns said Mr. Sidgmore would work out of the Washington area, but the company's headquarters would remain in Clinton, a small college town about 10 miles west of Jackson.
WorldCom stock, which has lost about 80 percent of its value this year, was up 13 cents, or more than 5 percent, to close at $2.48.
in trading yesterday on the Nasdaq Stock Market, and it gained another 5 cents in extended trading. Those shares track the part of the company that sells data and Internet services to large customers. They traded at a high of $64.50 in June 1999.
Shares of MCI Group, created last year to track long-distance and other consumer services, rose 18 cents to $3.62, also on the Nasdaq.

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