Horton hears the call

Tom Horton finally phoned home. After 17 years at American Airlines, Horton left in 2003 for what seemed a safer industry, telecoms, but after a stint at AT&T, a former phone giant, he’s come back to American as chief financial officer, ending he hopes the revolving door that had seen both his successors as CFO leave the airline. Horton, 44, succeeds James Beer, who left American to become CFO at Symantec Corp., a California software-security company. At AT&T, Horton helped negotiate a mega-merger with SBC Communications Inc. At American and its parent AMR, he’d helped design the 2001 takeover of TWA, but insists that he didn’t return to American to work on any mergers or acquisitions. Horton will add the title of executive vice president of finance and planning and will oversee all planning operations.


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Horton stressed that he did not make his move in order to come back to the airline industry but “to come home to this company”. In his AT&T office, Horton said, he had plenty of models of American Airlines planes. But at AMR, he won’t have any model telephones. Upon arriving at his new job at AMR headquarters in Fort Worth, Horton said he found a ‘to do’ list of six or seven items on his desk from Gerard Arpey, AMR’s chairman and chief executive. “One of them read ‘AMR unprofitable. Please fix’,” Horton said. 


But Horton and American view “bankruptcy as a solution that is kind of un-American. I wouldn’t trade our position with the other airlines who’ve been through bankruptcy. We’re going to go about this the right way. What we’ve got to do is find ways of working together to make the company successful”, he said. “A lot has changed at American since 2003″, he said, noting that the airline has cut non-fuel costs by $5.5 billion, and improved employee productivity. “Our biggest challenge is to avoid complacency, to not confuse a rising tide to a solution to a problem. As they say on Wall Street, don’t confuse brains with a bull market,” he told reporters.

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