The CEO of American Airlines has been stretching the limits of his credibility on a recent publicity campaign. He took credit for starting the industry's consolidation and flip-flopped on the company's interest in a merger. One analyst said he was on a rampage, presumably because US Airways’ Doug Parker has been dominating the coverage of a possible AA-US Air hookup.
Rather than bolstering his bona fides, Horton has muddied American’s message and, at times, made himself look small.
Before reviewing Horton’s comments, it’s important to note why this matters. My take is that Horton is overreaching because he's losing the war for American’s hearts and minds, maybe even with unsecured creditors.
His management team must sense it, and stock and bond markets are also betting on a merger with US Air. Parker has a good shot of running the combination, too, given that he championed the idea and won over American’s labor leaders.
Horton’s initial strategy was to stay focused on a stand-alone business, get through a long Chapter 11 to-do list and stay above the fray. He started out rock solid, unflappable and disciplined. But that’s over.
Horton is now slinging mud and revising history, and it must feel like panic city on Amon Carter Boulevard. Horton has been mocking Parker for campaigning by press conferences. Guess who’s going to be mocked now?
Here’s the quote Horton will never live down: “People said American sat out the consolidation wave of the last decade,” Horton told The Wall Street Journal last week. “No, we didn't. We started it, with the TWA acquisition.”
This is such a stretch that it’s fair to wonder if it was a slip of the tongue. It wasn’t. I’ve heard the same statement from American more than once, during background interviews. This time, Horton went on the record with it -- for the Journal’s national readership, no less.
To outsiders, including those who pulled off successful airline mergers, Horton was claiming to be an architect of modern airline consolidation.
That’s on par with Al Gore and the Internet. Gore never said he invented the ‘Net, but he took a lot of credit, and opponents and comics wouldn’t let it go. The line stuck, because it fit the narrative that Gore would go to any length to impress.
Click here to read the full column published online at Star-Telegram.com on Monday.