American’s New Senior Leadership Team Looks a Lot Like US Airways and America West Before That

Yesterday, American announced its new post-US Airways merger senior management team, and the result is pretty much as I had expected. Actually, scratch that. It’s as I had hoped it would be. Let me explain what I mean by that.

See, I figured that the new team would look a lot like US Airways today, but I wasn’t sure how many of the quality existing American folks could be convinced to stick around. With this announcement, we see that some of the best in American’s senior ranks have decided to stay. That says to me that they are buying into the merger plan and want to be a part of it, and that is a good sign.

Some of the early headlines screamed how there were 5 people from US Airways and 3 from American, so it was a more balanced approach. But all you need to do is look at the positions to see that’s not true. The top leadership positions are all filled by US Airways people. Here’s the org chart they posted in a company newsletter yesterday.

New American Sr Mgmt Team

Looking at this chart, it looks a lot like America West back before it took over US Airways. You have Doug Parker at the top (which we already knew) and Scott Kirby as President. Robert Isom will run operations, Steve Johnson will be on top of corporate affairs, Derek Kerr will head finance, and Elise Eberwein will be in charge of the HR and communications groups. The team that made US Airways what it is today will continue to lead the new American.

What about on the American side? Well, Bev Goulet is going to be in charge of the integration, but that’s obviously not an ongoing position. I would assume she’ll stick around for a couple of years to facilitate the process and then retire. Then again, that company newsletter said Bev flew 50 flights between Dallas and New York last year alone as part of her restructuring role. How she isn’t sick of all this and dreaming of sitting on a beach with a fruity drink in hand is beyond me. That’s dedication to the cause.

The one American employee who will report to Doug Parker on a permanent basis is Maya Leibman as Chief Information Officer. Readers of the blog know that I’m a fan, so I’m really glad to see that she decided to join the new team. I think US Airways and American have somewhat different views on the role of IT, so it will be very interesting to see what this organization looks like a year down the line. I would like to think that it will be a good thing.

Lastly, we have the legendary Will Ris running government affairs. (He’ll report to Steve Johnson.) Will has been with American for over 15 years, and he knows his way around Washington extremely well. Will is a regular at the Phoenix Aviation Symposium, and he cracked everyone up this year. When Doug Parker snuck in the room before his panel, Will was on stage and immediately started commenting on how Doug Parker was the best looking CEO in the industry. He knows how to work a room, and he’s been a huge asset for American over the years. Great move getting him to join as well.

All of this means that very few US Airways folks are out at the top (though that’s probably not comforting to current US Airways CIO Brad Jensen). On the American side, however, it’s a major house-cleaning. Of course, Horton is out as soon as the next board meeting occurs. Chief Financial Officer Bella Goren is gone, as are Denise Lynn (SVP People), Gary Kennedy (SVP, General Counsel), Jim Ream (SVP Ops), and Virasb Vahidi (Chief Commercial Officer). We also know that longtime American exec and current president of American Eagle Dan Garton is losing his job.

While I would imagine that most of these people weren’t offered roles in the new airline, that’s not true for everyone. Jon Snook, VP of Customer Service for American was offered a job in the new organization and walked away. In the letter he wrote to his team, he said he had an offer “to take a different role,” but he didn’t want it.

So now the top management team is set, and it’s time to start rolling this down to lower levels. I’m particularly interested to see what they decide for Scott Kirby’s direct reports. US Airways doesn’t really do much marketing at all, and both airlines duke it out for least-liked sales organization. Those are roles that I’m particularly interested in seeing filled. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see people come in from the outside.

Once we get to middle management levels, I would assume we’ll start to see a lot more people coming from both airlines. The top leadership sets the tone, and people underneath will have the opportunity to follow, regardless of which side they’re on today. But at the top, the vision is clear, and it’s coming from Arizona.

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