WHEN W. DOUGLAS PARKER was promoted September 1 to chairman, president, and CEO of America West Holdings, parent of America West Airlines, nothing could have prepared him for the events of September 11. Major carriers including America West now face reduced passenger travel and costly airport security measures. Equity analysts predict that low-cost and regional competitors such as Mesa Air Group and Southwest Airlines may gain market share, although the outlook is uncertain. As layoffs mounted in the days following the tragedy, Congress provided a $15 billion bailout to the industry.
At 39, Parker is one of the youngest airline chiefs in U.S. history. He began with the airline as senior vice president and CFO six years ago and in the past year oversaw an operational turnaround. He succeeds William Franke, CEO since 1993, who led the airline from bankruptcy and initiated a growth strategy resulting in five consecutive years of record profitability beginning in 1995.
Parker joins a youth tradition initiated by Richard Branson, who was 34 when he launched Virgin Atlantic. Industry deregulation attracted other thirty-something entrepreneurs, including easyJet’s Stelios Haji-Ioannou, 34, and JetBlue’s David Neeleman, who was 39 when he founded JetBlue. Neeleman is now 41, but he’s still described as “a neat kid” by his former boss, June Morris, 70, the retired CEO of Morris Air-now owned by Southwest.