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Old 03-27-2005, 07:09 PM   #1  
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Joined APC: Feb 2005
Position: Dallas, Texas
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Default Interim ATA CEO "lifting spirits"

Interim CEO lifting ATA's spirits
Denison inspires staff as he pares down carrier

John G. Denison
Position: ATA Airlines interim chief executive officer
Residence: Dallas area
Age: 60
Salary: $315,000, plus bonus
Hometown: Royal Oak, Mich.
Family: wife Kathy; children Stacy, Kari, Justin
Education: Economics degree, Oakland University, Pontiac, Mich.; finance MBA, Wayne State University, Detroit, 1975.

Career highlights:
Chrysler Corp. -- Manager of corporate finance and special studies
LTV Corp. -- 1980-1986, treasurer
Southwest Airlines -- 1986-2001, chief financial officer, finance vice president, corporate services vice president

ATA Airlines
Headquarters: Indianapolis
Employees on Dec. 31: 6,903
Employees planned at end of July: Undisclosed
Airliners on Dec. 31: 65 jets, 17 turboprops
Airliners planned at end of year: 46 jets
2004 performance: Lost $100.8 million on $1.53 billion in revenue
Bankruptcy reorganization plan due: May 23
Strategy: Code-share with Southwest on West Coast- Hawaii routes and Chicago Midway business routes.



By Ted Evanoff
[email protected]
March 27, 2005


Not long after John G. Denison went to work at bankrupt ATA Airlines in late January, the carrier disclosed it would slash its Indianapolis service.

Next, he met with the pilots' union, which had just rejected a second round of wage concessions. Soon, the 1,100 captains and first officers of the Air Line Pilots Association accepted temporary 20 percent pay cuts.

Rather than dim his image at Indianapolis-based ATA, pay cuts and canceled routes have brightened the reputation of the retired Dallas executive serving as the airline's interim chief executive officer.

"He's very personable," said Air Line Pilots spokesman Rusty Ayres. "He made our guys believe there's a glimmer of hope out there."

Hardly a household name in Indianapolis, Denison, 60, could wind up as permanent CEO of the company regarded as a homegrown landmark.

With ATA poised to break even in March for the first time since filing for bankruptcy Oct. 26, even the airline's powerful creditors' committee has lauded its temporary CEO.

"John Denison has done a great job. We're very happy with him," said creditors' committee attorney Lisa Beckerman of the Akin Gump law firm in New York. "He's very disciplined. He's keeping the company focused."

Just who eventually will head ATA has been an open question since the company filed for bankruptcy reorganization under founder J. George Mikelsons.

It's not clear how many of ATA's 2,000 Indianapolis jobs will remain as the carrier scales down. But if a poor pick is made, the next CEO could run ATA aground after it comes out of bankruptcy, losing what jobs do remain.

Beckerman and Denison won't say whether he is on the short list of candidates screened by a national search firm hired by the creditors to find a permanent CEO. An appointment is expected by July 31.

Asked by The Star if he wants the position, Denison declined to make a commitment.

"The job certainly intrigues me," he said.

The creditors' CEO search group has set an informal May deadline to recommend a candidate, Beckerman said. The group is composed of two committee members, two ATA officials, a Southwest official and a federal official. The U.S. government has guaranteed $140 million in ATA loans.

Denison's name immediately surfaced as a restructuring officer after Southwest Airlines, the nation's most profitable major airline, announced in December it would buy a 27.5 percent stake in ATA. Southwest also took control of eight of ATA's 14 Chicago Midway gates in a business alliance that includes sharing passengers on 11 Midway routes.

Denison was a good choice for Southwest, which wanted influence over ATA short of a takeover.

Formerly Southwest's chief financial officer, Denison resigned in 2001 to tend to undisclosed family issues in Texas.

Hired in January by ATA, he has rented an Indianapolis hotel suite and flown on weekends to Dallas, where he lives with his wife, Kathy, a Kokomo native.

Air Line Pilots Association officials note that if Denison could keep his home and family in Texas, he might take the top ATA job.

Reared in Detroit's blue-collar suburbs, Denison worked at Chrysler Corp. on the financial staff that arranged the 1979 federal bailout, went to work at steel conglomerate LTV Corp. as treasurer in 1980, then landed at Southwest in 1986.

He was chief financial officer for three years, then was promoted to vice president for corporate services. The jobs gave him a wide view of the airline business.

Of the ATA-Southwest alliance he said, "We're a unique partner to the most successful airline the world has known."

ATA was the nation's No. 10 airline and the leading passenger carrier at Indianapolis International Airport when it fell into Chapter 11, drained by fare wars, high fuel costs and an ill-timed 2001 expansion at Chicago Midway.

The bankruptcy filing put creditors -- chiefly lenders owed more than $500 million for airliners leased for the Midway expansion -- in position to replace Mikelsons as CEO with an interim chief.

On Jan. 22, Denison was named ATA co-chief restructuring officer and a month later became interim CEO.

One of his first decisions at ATA was to reverse the Indianapolis expansion as Northwest Airline's added its own low-fare routes.

"You couldn't protect yourself here" in a fare war with larger Northwest, Denison said. "Our entire livelihood and well-being" were at stake.

Now ATA is getting rid of its bigger jets and obtaining economical Boeing 737-300 airliners in part to help cushion against spiking jet fuel prices.

And its focus is shifting from leisure travel to business passengers through new Chicago Midway flights to business destinations such as Denver.

More than 200 furloughs are anticipated, bringing its local work force below 2,000, after ATA cuts Indianapolis service April 10 to four daily flights, from 41 in February as part of a short-lived expansion led by Mikelsons. The Chicago Express air shuttle will close Monday.

ATA intends to wind up with 46 jets. It already is sharing passengers with Southwest on 11 Midway routes and will launch similar code-share service April 3 on Phoenix-Hawaii routes and later on Orlando-San Juan routes.

"This is a very nice company," Denison said. "You can pretty easily see what needs to be done to make it profitable."
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