US Airways CEO Parker is man behind the merger

US Airways CEO Doug Parker (left) and American Airlines chief Tom Horton announcing the merger.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker (left) and American Airlines chief Tom Horton announcing the merger. (LM OTERO / AP)
Posted: February 16, 2013

Call him a visionary. Call him possessed. Doug Parker pulled it off.

The US Airways chief executive officer and his team began doggedly pursuing American Airlines in January 2012, less than two months after the larger rival filed for bankruptcy protection.

Parker, 51, a longtime proponent of airline consolidation, tried unsuccessfully three other times to merge US Airways - twice with United, in 2008 and 2010, and in a 2006 bid for Delta Air Lines.

The longest-serving chief executive of a major airline changed tactics this time and outsmarted AMR Corp. by striking a deal and winning conditional labor agreements with American's three main unions in April to support a merger.

It didn't hurt that the American workers did not like AMR management, stemming from 2003, when labor made hefty pay and pension concessions to keep the airline afloat. US Airways also won the support of creditors holding about $1.5 billion in AMR debt.

"He is unpretentious; he is just focused on results," aviation consultant Michael Boyd said about Parker. "And he's very laid-back. That's why he has been successful. He sees things that the rest of us don't see."

Combining the fifth-largest U.S. carrier with No. 3 American is a career achievement for Parker, who will run the new American, where he began his career in 1986.

"We were part of a pretty young group of MBAs that they brought in," recalled David Cush, now CEO of Virgin America. The group included Tom Horton, AMR's chief executive during bankruptcy; Ben Baldanza, chief executive of Spirit Airlines; and Craig Kreeger, the new CEO of Virgin Atlantic.

Parker grew up in Michigan, majored in economics at Albion College, and received a master's in business administration from Vanderbilt University in 1986.

American recruited Parker at Vanderbilt to be a financial analyst in Fort Worth, Texas, where he met his wife, Gwen, a flight attendant at American. Cush introduced them.

"Doug and I were both single and ran around the world on flight privileges, as one could do back in the 1980s when plane load factors were low," Cush recalled in an interview.

"Gwen used to run around with us. That's how they met. We were all fast friends, hitting the Dallas scene and doing some traveling periodically." The couple married in 1990 and have three children.

Parker left American in 1991 for an executive position at Northwest Airlines, and in 1995 joined America West as chief financial officer. He became the CEO of America West 10 days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Arizona-based carrier, with hubs in Phoenix and Las Vegas, was big in the West but not known in the rest of the country. In 2005, Parker and his top lieutenant, Scott Kirby, eyed the East Coast-centered US Airways, then in bankruptcy a second time and seemingly on the brink of liquidation.

US Airways hardly looked like a jewel, but Parker saw benefits of buying an airline in Chapter 11 - flexibility to shed debt, labor, and aircraft obligations, the industry trade publication Airline Weekly wrote last month.

"US Airways might not have survived another couple of months without the deal," it wrote. "But America West likely wouldn't have survived another couple of years either."

Parker and Kirby, US Airways' president, weren't finished, and in the next six years tried to buy Delta and merge with United.

Parker believes the industry will be better off with fewer domestic carriers, increasing the ability of each to raise fares and be profitable in the face of higher fuel costs and sluggish travel during economic downturns.

In his spare time, Parker enjoys sports, said Cush, adding that "several of us scattered around the country" catch up once or twice a year at major sporting events. Last month, Cush, Parker, and others attended the national championship football game between Notre Dame and Alabama in Miami.

Parker is good at leaving work and the office to spend time with his children, Jackson, Luke, and Eliza, at sports, rock concerts, or church youth events, his wife told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in June. "He does a really good job of making family things important and being sure that he is there for those," she said.


Airline CEOs' Flights to Top

US AIRWAYS

Doug Parker

Age: 51.

2005: Named US Airways chairman and CEO after the merger with America West Airlines.

2001: America West chairman, president,

and CEO.

1995: America West senior vice president and CFO.

1991: Northwest Airlines vice president and assistant treasurer; vice president of financial planning.

1986: American Airlines, several financial- management positions.

1986: Vanderbilt University, M.B.A.

1984: Albion College, B.A. in economics.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

Tom Horton

Age: 51.

2011: Named AMR Corp. chairman and CEO the day before carrier filed for bankruptcy.

2010: AMR Corp. president.

2006: AMR chief financial officer and executive vice president, finance and planning.

2002: AT&T Corp. CFO and vice chairman.

2000: AMR senior vice president and CFO.

1985: Joined AMR as a financial analyst, later vice president and controller.

1985: Southern Methodist University, M.B.A.

1983: Baylor University, B.B.A. in business administration.


Contact Linda Loyd

at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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