Word traveled fast through the Seattle area’s wireless alumni network when Eric Hertz, chief executive of New Zealand’s 2degrees Mobile, died in plane crash Saturday.
An aviation enthusiast, Hertz was flying a Beechcrat Baron when it crashed into Kawhia Harbour, south of Auckland, killing him and his wife, Kathy, according to local reports.
They lived in Auckland but continued to own a home in Kirkland, according to King County records.
Hertz was an executive at a series of local wireless companies — from AT&T to Zumobi — before he moved to New Zealand to launch the country’s third wireless carrier in 2009.
Called Two Degrees Mobile, or 2Degrees, the company had an unusual genesis. It began with a group of Maori who sought and won access to wireless spectrum under their federal treaty. A Maori trust then worked to build the company with international investors, including Bellevue-based Trilogy Partners, which is now the company’s majority owner.
When Hertz was considering a new job in 2009, Trilogy co-founder John Stanton suggested that he instead lead Two Degrees.
“He had success most every place he went, but for him 2degrees in a lot of ways was defining,” Stanton said.
Hertz arrived in New Zealand barely a month before Two Degrees launched its service and quickly put his imprint on the company, building and international leadership team and crafting an irreverant approach to stand out and resonate with the youth market.
“He just did a spectacular job,” Stanton said.
Two Degrees confirmed the accident in a news release posted on the company’s web site.
“Eric and Kathy had lived in many places, but called New Zealand home. They recently gained residency and, through flying, got to see more of New Zealand than many of us will ever see,” Two Degrees director of corporate affairs, Mat Bolland, said in the release.
Bolland said Kathy Hertz also provided the company with counsel on community initiatives.
“We are going to miss Eric’s leadership, friendship and dry sense of humour. He was our ‘honorary Kiwi’ and greatly respected by our 760 staff,” Bolland said in the statement.
Hertz earlier worked with Trilogy’s founders, who were veterans of McCaw Cellular and founders of Western Wireless.
Hertz was general manager of McCaw Cellular in Wisconsin the late 1980s and went on to became a regional president of AT&T and later chief operating officer of Western Wireless.
Before he left for New Zealand, Hertz was chief executive of Zumobi, a Seattle mobile software and advertising company that began as a mobile browser venture called ZenZui and spun out of Microsoft.
“He was a hands-on guy who roamed the hall quite often at Western – just a super nice guy,” said Joel Gray, who worked with Hertz at Western Wireless. “It was a punch in the gut last night when we found out.”