For almost three decades, Derek Kerr, the chief financial officer of American Airlines, has been deep in the financial details of US airlines.
After a few years as a flight test engineer, he joined Northwest Airlines in the early 1990s, during a period when the company only narrowly avoided bankruptcy by instituting significant wage cuts. Next, a move to American West Airlines, where he eventually became CFO in 2002. Here too, the airline was in the red, seeking nearly a billion in loans after first a weak economy and then the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 delivered a sucker-punch to the industry. A later merger with US Airways in 2005 heralded a new age of airline consolidation, with struggling competitors forced to band together to balance their books.
It was yet another merger that brought Kerr to American Airlines in 2013. At the time, American, an industry giant founded in 1926, had experienced billions of dollars in losses and weathered two years of bankruptcy; its $17 billion merger with US Airways created the world’s largest airline, with a market cap of about $12.7 billion and nearly 130,000 employees.