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Gold country Airlines CEO Brad Tilden will venture down; organization names his replacement

 Alaska Air Group’s board announced Monday that Brad Tilden will retire as Alaska Airlines’ chief executive at the end of March after eight years leading the company. Tilden, who turns 60 next month, will continue to serve as chair of the board. He will be succeeded by his second-in-command, Ben Minicucci, 54, Alaska Airlines’ president, and also a member of the Alaska Air board.

The leadership change comes at the most stressful time in two decades for the airline, with financial losses mounting due to the pandemic-driven airline downturn.

Earlier this month, Alaska reported a quarterly net loss of $431 million and said it expects to cut its workforce to between 19,000 and 20,000 next year, down from 23,000 at the beginning of this year.

In a statement, Minicucci expressed confidence in getting through the crisis.

The way in which our employees have navigated through challenges is truly inspiring – and the last nine months is no exception,” he said. “I’m excited and optimistic about our future as we continue this journey together.”

Tilden is a nearly 30-year veteran of the Seattle-based carrier. He joined Alaska Airlines in 1991 from accounting firm Price Waterhouse and nine years later was promoted to chief financial officer. He was appointed president of the airline in 2008 and became CEO in May 2012.

He has managed the airline against tough competition from low-cost carrier Southwest and then an aggressive push into its Seattle hub by Delta Air Lines.

Alaska has retained its leading share of passenger traffic at Seattle-Tacoma International airport and grown significantly. The latest major expansion, the $4 billion acquisition of San Francisco-based Virgin America in 2016, greatly strengthened Alaska’s West Coast network.

Port of Seattle Executive Director Stephen Metrick said Monday that Tilden “led Alaska Airlines through an extraordinary period of growth” that “benefited the region and state by unlocking routes to new destinations and boosting Washington’s tourism economy.”

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Alaska for years marketed itself as standing apart from its larger competitors with its high-quality service. Faced with the reality that passengers now choose flights primarily based on fares, Tilden during his tenure has transformed the airline into a low-cost carrier while still attempting to retain the reputation for warm service. New York-based analyst Bob Mann said Wall Street pushes airline management inexorably for reduced costs against the wishes of both employees and passengers.

“It’s a tough business to be in as a high-quality carrier competing with the lowest-cost guys,” said Mann, adding that Tilden has consistently delivered “the best financial performance in the industry.”

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Last year, in a key metric used to compare airline costs, Alaska’s “cost per available seat mile, excluding fuel and one-time items” was 8.7 cents, compared with 9.62 cents at Southwest and 10.52 cents at Delta.

Navigating the financial and competitive pressures in recent years, Tilden repeatedly asserted his intent to keep Alaska independent, dismissing talk that the airline might have to merge with a bigger carrier to survive. Mann said that while Tilden’s departure as CEO is “a watershed event in Alaska’s history,” Minicucci has proven himself leading Alaska’s flight operations.


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