American CEO Doug Parker Lost A Bet… BIG TIME

At American Airlines’ investor and media day last October, Doug Parker made two bold statements:

  • He insisted that shares of American Airlines stock will reach $60 by November 2018
  • He proclaimed that the airline will never again have a year where they lose money

Regarding the $60 share price claim, Parker made the bet with Sam Buttrick, who is an airline analyst at a hedge fund. Parker and Buttrick have known each other for years, so the bet was that American’s stock would hit $60 by the time Buttrick turned 60 on November 25, 2018. They bet a bottle of wine on it.

Well, we’re now a couple of weeks past that deadline, so how did American do? Not well, and Parker has admitted defeat, though rather than giving Buttrick a bottle of wine, he’ll take him to dinner and pay for drinks.

As of the time of this post, American’s stock is at under $34 per share.

At the time the bet was made, American’s share price was in the high $40s. So Parker was betting we’d see a ~25% increase in stock price. Instead we’ve seen a decrease of over 25%.

As a point of comparison, over the same period United’s stock is up about 50%, and Delta’s stock is up about 10%.

Doug Parker has no doubt had an amazing career. He started at America West, and now runs the world’s largest airline, having been the CEO at the helm of two big mergers. I find him to be an incredibly likable guy, and I have the utmost respect for his lifelong career in the airline industry.

But at this point:

  • He has disappointed Wall Street, and hasn’t met his own expectations; the share price is just over half of what he suggested it would be, and he doesn’t really have any good excuses
  • Employees aren’t happy — at this point only 26% of employees think that American management makes the right decisions to support frontline employees
  • And, well, I think we know how many of us customers feel nowadays

In spite of frustration from Wall Street, employees, and customers, somehow this guy still has a job? Is being the CEO of American Airlines in fact a tenured position, or…?

I’m not just trying to pick on Parker here. At this point American needs a CEO who has a vision for the airline, who gives employees clear focus about the direction the airline is headed. Or at least a CEO who can fake that.

For the past few years, American has been sending nothing but mixed signals to both employees and customers.

While I believe American will eventually decide on a vision (I mean, they have to, right?), at this point I don’t think Parker will have enough respect from employees to execute on that. Years ago the airline adopted the “Going for Great” slogan, though it’s something they’ve dropped since.

If American decides to go in a more premium direction, no one will take Parker seriously. If they go in a less premium direction, well, I don’t think that will work well for American. Their costs are way too high to be able to compete with the low cost players in the markets, be it Spirit, Norwegian, or the Chinese carriers.

Comments

  1. Using short term stock performance as an indicator of anything other than human nature volatility is just silly.

    While I think Parker is a poor manager, there are many reasons for that bet, none of them actually dependent on he belief in the share price or indicative of where he believes AA share are headed.

    Without knowing or really caring about the incentive compensation program in place at AA it is difficult to evaluate thier operating decisions and strategy.

    However most likely the compensation programs are based on incomplete performance metrics and stock options which encourage poor decisions.

    The culprit as with most Mega firms is a corporate board with very little risk of individual accountability.

  2. Parker actually started at American back in the late 80s/early 90s, then went to Northwest, then America West (which merged with US Airways)… moving back to DFW is full circle for him

  3. I hope a replacement is coming soon. The decline of American happened at about the same time as when they had the massive change of their loyalty program. I have changed from looking for American flight to avoiding them unless it is absolute necessary from that point onward.

  4. ..barely treading above 1/2 your prediction…OUCH!

    Interesting fact: In the last 5 years, it’s NEVER reached 60! Who is he kidding!?

    p.s. I should’ve bought some stock back in Feb/Mar 2012 when it was .50 cent a share.

  5. @ PRChef — I totally agree that not too much weight should be placed on short term stock performance. It’s not entirely rational that American’s stock has gone down so much while United’s stock has gone up so much over the past year. However:
    — Parker decided to make the bet, so I think it’s only fair to hold him accountable based on that
    — Putting aside short term stock price, American *is* lagging when it comes to far more important metrics than stock price

  6. So, given yesterday’s incident with Americans punctuality at LAX before your flight to Tahiti, and how you said you were ‘done with this airline, I think’, how will your custom change in the months/years ahead ? In other words, what actions are you taking given that you ‘have now reached your tipping point with the airline’ ?

  7. @ Alex Conway — Stay tuned for a post about exactly that. My intent is to no longer be loyal to them/dump my status. And I’m not going for status with another airline, my plan is to be a “free agent.” Working on figuring out exactly what that will look like as we speak.

  8. These CEOs should start betting their whole compensation packages on the performance of their companies. The performance goes up, compensation stays, possibly even goes up. It goes down, well, say auf wiedersehen to the whole compensation. No worries, there will be lots of others in line to replace the outgoing one.

  9. @ lucky – Looking forward to the post, amazing how culture in a business can affect customers loyalty. But, as a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight to PHL about 6 months said to me, ‘when it comes to culture, it starts at the top’. If only management would realise that. Again, sadly the customer is no longer the priority – money is. If they had a culture of putting customers first, the money would come next – and the profitability issue would take care of itself. Just sad to see a business not capitalising on it’s potential, I guess…

  10. It’s also ironic that AA seems to have given Sam Chui CK status for some PR spotlight in the meanwhile.

  11. Remember that AA had a change from Scott Kirby to Robert Isom which is an enormous change in thought process at the top. Robert is an operations guy who has put a focus on the operation, though maybe in the wrong areas, while Scott has sprung United into an upswing

  12. @lucky From his recent clips, the Cadillac transfer as well as prem agent escorting both seemed like CK treatment iirc.

  13. Parker’s compensation is today entirely in stocks. So yes, stock goes down, he loses big times. Employees are rewarded based on profitability performance as well. As you can imagine, not many people must be hapy at AA these days…

  14. My brother and my parents have flown AMR recently. My parents have some modest status. I’d recount the last trips they took, including the time the check-in agents told my six-year-old nephew his ticket was cancelled (but not refunded), or, on the return flight, the gate agent threatened to call security on my sister-in-law for asking when they’d get reliable gate information*, or, when my parents went out to see my brother’s family, the baggage handlers utterly destroyed my father’s wheelchair and it took several lengthy calls to their call center before someone stepped up and did the right thing, but you’d find it hard to believe a company that relies on customer trust would act that way.**
    On the other hand, some airlines have decided that heavy maintenance can be offshored somewhere cheap, where there’s only one LAME for every so many people who work on the equipment. It’s funny how they also have a higher rate of failure.
    It’s also funny what the choice of metrics does. If “on-time rate” is king, then the moment your flight passes that 20-min threshold, you’re doomed: hello remote stand, delayed baggage, and every other insult. The airline has already written you off as a loss.

    I’m glad I have a choice. Well, between those events above, I flew the same route with DL. It wasn’t all roses. Our flight was late arriving, and I foolishly didn’t accept the transcontinental F ticket on the first flight in the morning with AS when it came across the app. When we got to the hub, the person running the transfer desk wasn’t in a good mood, and threw amenity kits at us. Only at the hotel did we discover they didn’t cover breakfast, but back at the airport the next day at check-in, I asked and the rep handed us some vouchers.

    The customer-oriented companies that survive are going to be the ones that realize that the future will not be ruled by who has the best metrics, but rather by who has the best anecdotes. You can’t win em all, and I’m just a person on the Internet. But how many people are going to recognize themselves and others in these situations?

    *I put the blame on my sister-in-law: I could see using the non-Company frequent flyer tools that we use that 1) their originally-planned aircraft was heavily delayed, so they changed tail numbers, and 2) that new tail number was at FL 380 and over an hour out. And yet she thought a gate agent might know more?

    ** My parents’ flight home wasn’t bad, so I guess American can say they’re batting .250

  15. Thusfar the service this year, for me, has been good. In and out of the Dallas hub several times and what I have seen equipment wise appears on the surface to be smooth and working ok, even tho I did experience a last minute plane change and a two hundred yard dash to a newly posted gate. What I do see that is troublesome is attitude. Attitude in the faces of all contact staff if and when a problem or issue came up. Wearing that American uniform means stepping up to the plate, with patience with resolve and with passenger consideration foremost, under any and all circumstances. Years in the transportation industry are no justification for a confrontational attitude. Union or not, send those reactive members to the back of the bus, subject to suspension and or dismisal. Your corporate survival depends on honesty, service and a willingness to respond to changing circumstances with a smile and an incentive to engage each customer with a desire to provide an answer. Our answer is flight. Service and good will come along as American provides excellence in flight, on time departures and a fulfilling and safe environment for each passenger.

  16. Let’s make a change! Akbar Al Baker for AA CEO! Bring some excitement back to the US airline industry!

  17. It’s really nice they decided to put a bar in the back of first class.
    It’s unfortunate it’s a metal bar running vertically across my seat.

    I fly them only when their first class provides the fastest flight.
    I’d pay 3x as much for MINT from LAS -NYC , and in fact I have paid that much more

  18. Doug Parker is a great CEO and has proven his ability to lead…l believe that other areas of management need an overhaul ASAP.

  19. My friend & I had First Class seating 8 months ahead of scheduled takeoff to Amsterdam. We confirmed that reservation 3 days before the flight. At the gate we were told that we were being bumped, but that we would be booked on another airline that was going to Germany in 2 hours, & transferred to ‘Coach’ on another flight to Amsterdam. For our trouble we were assured that we would be given $750. When we finally reached Amsterdam & inquired when we would be given our $750, we were told that the American Airlines representative shouldn’t have made that promise because they had no intention of giving us anything but a credit of $500 on our next flight on American Airlines. I told them to forget about the $500 credit because we wouldn’t fly with them again……that was a promise that we kept.

  20. Robert Crandall make some big mistakes when he was running AA, not the least of which was attempting to collude with competitors to fix prices, and getting taped doing it. But if one compares his leadership to what AA suffers under now, and the innovations and record of performance during his tenure, it is clear where the airline’s current problems originate. As Alex Conway pointed out previously, an organization’s culture starts at the top.

    Look at Southwest. Herb Kelleher has not been CEO there for years, but the culture he instilled continues to live in that airline, from top to bottom, and his spirit continues to influence every aspect of how that airline runs.

  21. A substandard airline- I travel frequently and 70% of the time primary and connecting flights are delayed- often due to mechanical issues as they don’t reinvest toward a proper preventive maintenance program. Disgusting airline
    Avoid purchasing its stock

  22. Lucky, you claim to travel 400,000 miles a year? that’s roughly 133 trips from LA to NY. A 6 hour flight subtract 8 hours a day to sleep means you’re either flying of blogging. I call bullshit and your piece is full of holes.

  23. Last few flights
    Southwest Flight Cancelled and got one a few later no compensation offered.
    AA flights ok got back to Phx on time but has to wait for a gate. At a hub are you freaking kidding me
    Alsaka leaving three hours late no compensation

  24. The changes in requirements for Elite status, Gold in particular, I won’t qualify for the first time in like 10 years. Before that I was sick so my travel was limited for 2 years. I was Elite 10 years before that. It seems that AA wants us to give more, but get less. Loyalty means nothing anymore.

  25. AA and other legacy carriers remain arrogant and inflexible unlike a competitor like Jetblue. (They don’t even consider Jetblue as a competitor)
    – I switched carriers when AA increased Award point requirement for European flights.
    – AA and other legacy airlines can learn a lot from Jetblue:
    1. Allow family pooling of points
    2. Provide better value for Economy Plus seats (ie: priority boarding, faster security, designated overhead space)

  26. @ Noel, some of us prefer being in the air than on the ground. Why on Earth would you be on the site of a known frequent traveller if that’s not a concept you care for?

    Also, there several dozen ways you could have phrased that without coming across as you did. Were you having a long day? In which case my condolences though I recommend avoiding comment sections on those days.

  27. AA management lacks power managers, folks that have been given real authority to make decisions. Plus even if they did they probably couldn’t make good judgments, because between the top and the bottom and about everything in between is a lot of lazy lying immoral folks that really haven’t been properly seeing real consequences for their awful ways, so yes it’s still just a big garbage truck of remnants of old airline entities that continue to go down the toilet just like they always do, has always been a rough industry and always will be so be brave home of✈️

  28. American use to be a solid player. Now I view united and American as equally evil. Delta is solid average. I end up leveraging biz travel for Alaska miles as when I travel domestic they seem to be the best option.

  29. Hi Lucky, I was wondering if you had any thoughts about why Full service carriers choose to compete with LCCs at their own game. Isn’t it both damaging and counter productive to a full service airline?

  30. @Noel:
    133 trips of roughly six hours. Let’s say, average two hours on either end for airport and transit. That’s 133 10-hour days, during which Lucky could theoretically work, say, four hours on the blog. There are roughly 260 week days in a year. So, by your own math he could work long days about half of the weekdays, leaving him lots of time on the other 4 or so days per week to work on the website, plan his next trips, do his laundry, etc. So, where’s the problem?

  31. Lucky is more exciting than Sam Chui . I can only watch so many you tube inflight videos it gets boring after a while.

    Dougie sure has a lot of haters but he is trying to make a buck. Airline profits are going to rebound in 2019 with the decline in oil prices.

  32. I think that was really well said Lucky. Parker has done some amazing stuff, but American really does lack a vision out of the US3 I would say. I always sort of thought he was out of his league running the largest airline considering he started at America West. I remember the America West days, and it was basically a no frills airline when it came down to it.

    Now that he’s at the helm of a world class international airline that is supposed to have world class products, I just don’t think he’s the guy for the job for American to continue, given his America West foundation. And unfortunately I think he’s followed running AA with that foundation which is why AA is so bad when it comes to customer service, or consistency. But I guess we’ll see….

  33. Airline industry as a whole is down big time YTD. United is the lone exception.

    I wouldn’t use AA stock decline (or Parker’s ridiculous bet) as an indictment against the company.

    You have issues with AA with recent delays, etc, but please don’t use this blog as a platform to rail against a company or trying to get a guy fired from his job.

    You have zero training in economics. Massive consumption of a product does not make you an expert in an industry. Just because I watch a ton of basketball does not mean I know how to run a team.

    I’m sure the board of AA will make a decision most in shareholder interest. Lobbing grenades at Parker’s job from the comfort of your laptop is cowardly.

    Stick to trip reports and credit card referrals please.

  34. He needs to start on his front line people. You cant build the top when you have your Flight crew sleeping in cars or terminals, because we have no money for a hotel before our flight schedule starts. We love what we do and for the most part, we do it with pride. I personally know ” low cost carrier” employees that make 1.5 time my wage for less years of work. Remember the next time you fly, I look forward to “Elevating your Experience” Please enjoy your next AA flight we count on you.

  35. I’ve made a point not to fly AA. Have taken my business to the “free agent” model and won’t go back. I can’t say I’ve flown United much recently. But Delta and AA aren’t that great, if one must, I’d choose Delta any day though.

  36. A good portion of those flight hours are spent sleeping. Some of the waking hours can be spent working if you have wifi or stuff to do off line.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to be flying that much but people do.

  37. May American Airlines rot in hell. Unhappy employees, an arrogant self-serving CEO and an all around unpleasant experience. After 12 years of status with AA, I’m pleased to avoid flying them altogether. Time for a change

  38. AWA was great. They saved US Airways then American, each time keeping the name of the larger airline. Unfortunately, this time they kept a lot of American’s policies (that led to bankruptcy) instead of following AWA’s successful policies.
    Employees got pay raises, but their scheduling is crap. AWA employees with 15 years of service can’t hold a day shift because of all the laid off AA people that were called back. Doug promised no changes in PHX after the merger, but nearly all admin jobs moved to Dallas. Now there are so many ‘reduced operation’ days… it is a surprise that anyone can even get to PHX.

  39. I am a retired pilot from AWA. Was forced out the door by the age requirement right at the merger with American Airlines. Just need to add something here. Dougie didn’t start his airline life at AWA he had actually worked for both NWA and AA in his early days. Below is a quotation from Wikipedia: Parker was a financial analyst at American Airlines from 1986 to 1991, where he was a member of then CEO Robert Crandall’s, “Brat Pack”,[3] alongside Thomas W. Horton (former CEO President and Chairman of American), C. David Cush (former CEO of Virgin America) and Ben Baldanza (former CEO of Spirit Airlines).
    Parker joined Northwest Airlines in 1991 and was tasked to help create a team that would systematically figure out where the airline was making and losing money. Tracking profits flight-by-flight in such detail at that level was a first for Northwest.[4]
    Parker became Chief Financial Officer of America West Airlines in 1995 after returning to United States, and because then-CEO Bill Franke wanted to train him to be a CEO, Parker moved around between finance, sales and operations.[4] Parker was named Chairman and CEO in September 2001, 10 days before the September 11th terrorist attacks.[5] Under Parker, America West was the first of several airlines to win post-9/11 federal loan guarantees, saving the airline from a second bankruptcy.[2]

    He saved our behinds after 9/11, but the rest isn’t as good.

  40. I switched to United and overall has been a positive experience. Yes, there are problems but not the large scale meltdowns that AA has been having. I’m a little over 2MM lifetime status, so will probably stay with them and lock in lifetime Global Service status at 3MM.

    I did try the free agent lifestyle for a year, but found that when I was in a pinch and needed some heavy lifting to get somewhere I was just another passenger. Being 1K with United has paid off, so unless they go into the toilet like AA I just can’t imagine going anywhere else.

  41. On the face of things I am inclined to agree with Lucky and the consensus.

    But there is a possible alternative perspective. Suppose – not unreasonably – we get sharp upward movements in the price of oil. Airlines which, before then, have done most to minimise embedded costs are those most likely to remain profitable. I am not sure that is the calculus at AA but we shouldn’t overlook the possibility entirely that their strategy is an hedge against fuel cost shocks. It is reasonable to criticise that there is no longer a service culture at AA but the personal remarks about Parker might be ill-informed and unfair.

  42. I work for a US company here in Europe. The CEO tells us we need make more money so the Wall Street is happy. We need 20% more than last year he says.. well happy Wall Street… unhappy staff.
    Dont like the way this hunt for money is going when nothing is done for the staff, just work more and more. Time to change work and away from this american way.

  43. @HOppy Hotrod … you nailed it. The employee satisfaction is low because of management. So far my experience, working in operations, has been nothing more than they use whatever talent they can squeeze out of you. They take credit for it—because they don’t have the talent themselves and then they replace you ASAP, before anyone above them realizes what’s going on. It’s a joke. It is a wonder we get planes off the ground. I’m proud of what I do, but I am disappointed in the culture. There are a lot of great people working there that deserve better and I think having happy employees would go a long way in helping us have happy passengers—and the passengers deserve it the most. It’s really sad….we have so much potential. Not sure how we can fix it…

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