News > Companies
NWA chief resigns
February 20, 2001: 8:30 a.m. ET

Dasburg steps down amid labor contract talks to head Burger King
graphic graphic
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Northwest Airlines CEO John Dasburg stepped down from his 11-year tenure as the carrier's CEO Monday to take the top spot at fast-food chain Burger King, a unit of Britain's Diageo PLC.

Northwest (NWAC: Research, Estimates) elected Richard Anderson, 46, the current executive vice president, to head the nation's fourth-largest airline, the company said.

Dasburg, 58, said he wants to return to his hometown of Miami, where Burger King is based, and to his roots in the restaurant industry, where he once worked for Marriott Corp.

graphic"Leaving Northwest is a very difficult personal decision," Dasburg said in a statement. "I am proud of what we have accomplished at Northwest together in the past decade, and I am confident that I am leaving the company in very capable hands."

On taking the reins at Burger King, Dasburg told CNNfn's "Talking Stocks" Tuesday that he did not yet have a time table for the unit's initial public offering and that one of his first priorities when he takes over on April 1 would be to look for ways to improve sales. (401KB WAV) (KB AIFF)

The change in leadership comes after four years of so-far fruitless negotiations between the Minneapolis-based airline and its mechanics' union, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.

Separately, Northwest named Douglas Steenland, 49, as president. He formerly was executive vice president and chief corporate officer.

Steenland was a key figure in forging Northwest's alliances with Continental Airlines Inc. and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines NV, the company said.

Mechanics strike looms

Northwest faces a possible March 12 strike by 10,000 mechanics, custodians and cleaners unless an agreement can be reached before a cooling-off period ends. Four years of negotiations are coming to a head now that both sides have emerged from federal mediation without an agreement.

Check other airlines stocks

President George W. Bush has threatened to intervene, a move that could postpone a strike for up to 60 days. Intervention also includes the imposition of a Presidential Emergency Board, which could recommend terms that Congress ultimately could enforce.

The airline industry also has come under fire recently as unprecedented travel delays and service complaints mount.

Last month, Northwest settled a $7.1 million class-action lawsuit involving more than 7,000 passengers affected by a 1999 snowstorm in Detroit during which some passengers were stranded on planes for up to nine hours while toilets overflowed and food and beverage supplies ran out.

Anderson, Northwest's new CEO, has been with the airline for a decade, serving in several key management positions and currently is in charge of all operating activities, including flight operations, technical and ground operations and in-flight services.

Before joining Northwest, Anderson spent three years in the legal affairs department at Continental Airlines.

Steenland joined Northwest in 1991 as vice president and deputy general counsel and became senior vice president and general counsel in 1994.

Burger King flips

Dasburg's appointment comes as Burger King strives to revive profits in a competitive marketplace.

Before joining Northwest, Dasburg spent a decade in several management positions at Marriott Corp., preparing him for his new role at Burger King.

Burger King's former CEO, Dennis Malamatinas, left the post to become CEO of Europe, a European offshoot of the troubled "name your own price" Web site that sells low-cost airfares and other items.

Check other food and beverage stocks

The switch comes as Diageo prepares to spin off Burger King by the end of the year in order to focus on its liquor and spirits business.

"This is a most significant appointment. We are delighted to have attracted one of North America's most respected and successful executives to head Burger King," Diageo's group chief executive Paul Walsh said. "From his career with Marriott he brings significant experience of the restaurant and foodservice industry, which we will benefit from as he leads Burger King's turnaround."

Shares of Northwest slipped 63 cents to $21.37 in Tuesday afternoon trading.

-- from staff and wire reports