A few days after Don Carty was named CEO and chairman of AMR, the parent company of American Airlines, a reporter asked him how he compared with his predecessor, Robert Crandall. “Basically,” he said, smiling nervously, “I’m an optimist, and he’s a pessimist.” Carty was referring to Crandall’s famously stern personality, which over the years had earned him the nicknames Darth Vader and Fang. He also seemed to be signaling a difference in business philosophy, but he wasn’t—or at least nothing that’s visible thus far. Nearly a year after taking the helm of American, Carty has taken steps to de-Fang the place, but little else has changed.
That’s not entirely surprising. “Big airlines are like battleships: They take forever to turn,” says Edward Starkman, an industry analyst with investment bank Warburg Dillon Read. And Carty’s long history as a company man suggested he’d be a kind of caretaker CEO. Except for a two-year stint running CP Air in Canada in the mid-eighties, he has been on the payroll of Fort Worth—based American since 1978, overseeing, at various times, the company’s finances and strategic planning. In 1995 he was named president of the airline, a position he held until he was tapped for the top job last April.
Still, given the state of flux that American and