NEW YORK (Reuters) - Richard Anderson, the son of a railroad worker from Galveston, Texas, looks set to become the most powerful executive in the global airline industry.
Almost eight months after taking over as chief executive of Delta Air Lines Inc, Anderson, 52, has engineered Delta’s industry-changing acquisition of Northwest Airlines Corp, his former employer.
The deal, announced on Monday, will make the combined airline the largest carrier in the world, surpassing AMR Corp’s American Airlines. It also promises to spur follow-on deals as rivals like United Airlines and Continental Airlines fear being left behind.
Completing the integration of the two airlines will pose enormous challenges, including navigating through the antitrust process and winning support from employees with hubs including Delta’s Cincinnati and Northwest’s Memphis operations potentially facing the ax.
“It’ll be a lot of work, but I do believe he’s up to the task,” said airline expert Terry Trippler of TripplerTravel.com, who has known Anderson since he was with Northwest. “He gets things done.”
A union leader said Anderson has shown he can work with employees to find solutions.
“Make no mistake, he’s a shrewd lawyer and a cunning strategist,” said Danny Campbell, who was president of Northwest’s flight attendants’ union at the time Anderson was named CEO. “But if he’s dealing with people that are willing to problem solve, he’s actually very productive.”
Delta will acquire Northwest in an all-stock deal in which Northwest shareholders will receive 1.25 Delta shares for each Northwest share they own.
Northwest shareholders will get $13.10 per share in Delta stock based on Monday’s closing price of $11.22 a share, representing a 17 percent premium to NWA’s close.
Anderson did not take a direct route to the heights of the global airline industry.
At a young age, the hard-working family man learned to deal with adversity — useful for an executive in the volatile airline industry. While in college, both his parents died of cancer, forcing Anderson to take responsibility for raising his two younger sisters.
“It was not easy ... but it did slow down the beer drinking,” Anderson said in an interview with USA Today in October.
Despite the difficulties, he completed his studies, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Houston in 1977. He went on to receive a law degree from South Texas College of Law in 1982.
After law school, Anderson went to work as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office in Harris County, Texas.
In 1987, in search of a bigger paycheck with his first child on the way, he knocked on the door of Continental Airlines and landed a job in the legal department.
Proving his mettle, he moved to Northwest in 1990, starting as deputy general counsel. He moved up the ranks, serving as a senior vice president of technical operations and airport affairs, and chief operating officer.
He ultimately became Northwest CEO in 2001, guiding the Minneapolis-based carrier through the aftermath of the September 11 attacks that sent the airline industry into a tailspin.
Northwest filed for bankruptcy on the same day as Delta in September 2005, about a year after Anderson jumped ship to become executive vice president at insurer UnitedHealth Group.
Anderson, who was appointed to Delta’s board in April 2007, was drawn back to the airline industry for the “intellectual challenge of trying to make an important, long-lasting change in how ... airlines are managed,” he told USA Today.
Reporting by Jui Chakravorty, Bill Rigby; Editing by Gary Hill