Sean Menke, who is returning to Frontier Airlines to become president and chief executive, was greeted by employees Tuesday with applause and questions about the airline's future.
Though he officially takes the helm at Frontier on Sept. 7, Menke met with employees following Tuesday's announcement of his appointment.
Menke, 38, replaces Jeff Potter, who is resigning to become chief executive of Denver-based luxury destination club Exclusive Resorts.
Menke was Frontier's senior vice president and chief operating officer until June 2005, when he left to become chief commercial officer at Air Canada. He was recently named executive vice president of commercial strategy for the Montreal-based airline.
During his first run at Frontier, Menke led the development of the airline's "A Whole Different Animal" campaign.
Menke joins Frontier as the airline faces harsh competition at its Denver hub from Southwest Airlines and United Airlines and problems maintaining consistent profitability, suffering a net loss in its most recent quarter when other airlines were reporting profits.
"I sort of bring an outside perspective and have the capability of maybe tweaking what we're doing a little bit," Menke said. "We do need to execute the strategy that's in place. ? Over time, if we need to make changes, we will."
Among Frontier employees who know him, Menke is seen as a more intense straight shooter compared with the sociable Potter.
"It's wonderful to have all these strategies," Menke said. "But at the end of the day, we have to be profitable."
During Menke's tenure, Air Canada drew attention for launching a system of a la carte pricing, where passengers can choose to pay less if they don't want to earn frequent-flier miles for a trip or check bags or have reserved seats, for example.
It's a system that Frontier has also been considering.
The strategy sometimes is criticized as "nickel-and-
diming" passengers. Airlines say it gives customers more options.
Frontier has also been seen as a potential takeover target or candidate for a merger as it struggles in Denver.
"I'll spend time with Jeff (Potter) during this transition period, and you know, that topic will come up and we'll discuss it," Menke said. "? Now, from a shareholder perspective, we'll always have to continue to look at what is right for the shareholder as well. But again, I am very focused on growing the company as a stand-alone company."
Zeroing in quickly
Menke recently moved back to Denver with his family for what he described as "personal and family reasons" while continuing to travel for his job with Air Canada.
Frontier also announced Tuesday that it is promoting Chris Collins to executive vice president and chief operations officer; Paul Tate to executive vice president and chief financial officer; and David Sislowski to senior vice president and general counsel.
Potter, who has been well-
liked by employees as an approachable leader, said the board quickly zeroed in on Menke in its search.
Along with Potter's departure, Frontier chairman Sam Addoms will also step down from his position Sept. 6.
"This sort of clears the way for the new CEO to put his stamp on the company," said George Hamlin, managing director in Fairfax, Va., for Airline Capital Associates. "It will be up to Sean and his team to turn things around."
Tom Allee, Frontier's senior director of government and community affairs, said experience Menke has gained at Air Canada, particularly with the Star Alliance for marketing between airlines, will be helpful for Frontier, which has been seeking its own partnerships.
"Somebody like Sean brings literally global experience," said Doug Abbey, a partner in Washington, D.C., for Velocity Group, an aviation consulting firm. "There are people in this business who like constant challenges and will go from one carrier to another somewhat counterintuitively."
Air Canada, Canada's largest airline, is "one of the most successful turnarounds of any legacy carrier," largely as a result of some American executives like Menke, Abbey said.
Potter called Menke "a little bit more analytical" than he is.
Flight-operations-technologies pilot Janet Elliott recalled a project she worked on at Frontier under Menke in the past.
"I had to push some people pretty hard," she said. Menke came into Elliott's office and said, "'I hear you're ruffling a couple of feathers. Let me know if there's anything I need to do to help."'
"Some people may see that as a rough and gruff approach, but he also understands that you need to keep the business moving," Elliott said.
"The company has a very family-oriented corporate culture, and that's one of the reasons everybody likes it," she said, "but in this competitive world there needs to be a balance between dealing with that very competitive, rough and tough industry and the family corporate culture."
Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi can be reached at 303-954-1488 or kyamanouchi@
What he'll make
Sean Menke will be paid an annual salary of $325,000, with initial grants of 100,000 stock- option stock-appreciation rights and 30,000 restricted stock units under an executive bonus plan and equity-incentive plan.
Outgoing CEO Jeff Potter received total compensation of $622,829 in Frontier's fiscal year ended March 31, including a salary of $311,250.
At Air Canada in 2006, Menke received total compensation of $855,649, including $364,375 in salary and a $491,274 bonus. His long-term compensation included 194,198 options and 13,393 Air Canada performance share units.
Menke on rapid arc
Name: Sean Menke
Employment background: Worked in the airline industry for more than 15 years, including stints in marketing and operations at United Airlines, Colorado Springs-based Western Pacific Airlines and America West Airlines.
Joined Frontier in January 1999, led the development and launch in 2003 of Frontier's "A Whole Different Animal" campaign.
Served as Frontier's senior vice president and chief operating officer until June 2005.
Left Frontier to become executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Air Canada and was recently named Air Canada's executive vice president of commercial strategy. Oversaw marketing; sales; scheduling; brand, research and product development; international affairs; alliances; and Jetz, the carrier's specialty charter service.
Education: Executive MBA from the University of Denver, Daniels College of Business. Dual bachelor's degrees in economics and aviation management from Ohio State University.
Personal: Married with three children, including a newborn. His family recently moved back to Denver from Montreal.