Chairman Gary Wilson to leave NWA board

Northwest headquarters
Northwest Airlines has its headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Martin Moylan

The new board will assume oversight of Northwest when the airline emerges from bankruptcy. And that is expected to occur in June.

Gary Wilson is the most high-profile departure. Wilson has been co-chairman or chairman of the board since 1991. And he was a key player in the leveraged buy-out group that bought Northwest in 1989 and took it private for several years.

In a company statement Wilson said he's leaving the board because he believes in term limits and other business interests do not allow him enough time to continue leading the Northwest board.

Airline analyst Ray Neidl was not surprised by Wilson's departure.

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"We've had three union board seats and it has not helped us in the way you would have expected."

"Wilson, I think, said it: People get stale after they're in any one job for too long. And he's got other things to do," Neidl says.

It's also common for a company emerging from bankruptcy to replace board members.

Roy Bostock will be the new chairman of Northwest's board. He's been on the board since 2005.

Bostock is a top executive with Sealedge Investments, a private investment company. He also is on the boards of Morgan Stanley and Yahoo!, and he chairs the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

New board members include David Brandon, the CEO of Domino's Pizza, Mike Durham, a former chief financial officer for American Airlines, Mickey Foret, a former chief financial officer for Northwest Airlines, and James Postl, the former CEO of Pennzoil-Quaker State. Analyst Ray Neidl says he likes the number of non-employees on the board.

"Boards are always important because they have to oversee what's happening with the company. It's a god mixture of insiders and outsiders," Neidl says. "You want a good strong representation of outsiders on your board."

The new board members also hale from a range of industries.

Airline industry consult Darryl Jenkins says that gives Northwest expertise in several areas that are critical for the carrier.

"They've got somebody who knows distribution Somebody who knows jet fuel; somebody who knows policy, especially if they're going to be trying to get some slots at Heathrow, which is what Rodney Slater's job will be to help them with," Jenkins says.

Jenkins expects Slater, the former transportation secretary, will be very important in helping Northwest secure additional landing rights in Europe. Slater is now a full board member after serving as an observer on behalf of the company's ground workers union.

Until now three unions held seats on Northwest's board as part of a concessions agreement in 1993. Two of those seats are now gone: The ground workers' and the Teamsters. For years, the teamsters retained a Northwest board seat even though the flight attendants rejected them as their union several years ago.

"We're not losing much. The board seat was not a priority," says Karen Schultz, spokeswoman for the current flight attendants union, the Association of Flight Attendants.

"We've had three union board seats and it has not helped us in the way you would have expected," she says.

Northwest has been a tough negotiator during its bankruptcy reorganization. The airline has extracted over $1.4 billion in annual labor saving from its unions.

Northwest CEO Doug Steenland will continue serving on the Northwest board, as will historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.