MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- John H. Dasburg is stepping down as president and chief executive officer of Northwest Airlines for a return to the restaurant industry as the head of Burger King Corp., the airline announced Monday.
Richard H. Anderson, a 10-year Northwest veteran and current executive vice president and chief operating officer, will succeed Dasburg as CEO.
Douglas M. Steenland, executive vice president and chief corporate officer, will become president of Eagan-based Northwest.
"Leaving Northwest is a very difficult personal decision," said Dasburg, who has led the world's fourth largest airline since 1990. "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."
Dasburg, 58, will formally resign from Northwest on April 1, when he will become chairman, chief executive officer and president of Burger King, a Miami-based subsidiary of Diageo PLC. Before coming to Northwest, Dasburg was executive vice president of Marriott Corp. and president of Marriott's Lodging Group.
His departure comes in the midst of a cooling off period in a bitter long-running contract dispute with Northwest's mechanics, who have scheduled a strike vote March 2. The airline also recently announced the resignation of longtime spokesman Jon Austin.
But the airline remains strong, Anderson said.
"We're well-positioned strategically; there has been robust internal growth," he said. "Fundamentally, the strategy will remain the same."
During an interview Monday night, Anderson and Steenland said they have worked in almost ever facet of the airline and will continue to stress customer relations.
Terry Trippler, a travel expert with OneTravel.com, said Dasburg's departure to Burger King was a shock, but Anderson is a clear choice as a successor with a strong reputation in labor and customer relations.
"It's a Whopper of a story," Trippler said. "I don't know anyone who expected this. But Richard Anderson is clearly the right man for the right job at the right time. He is good news for air travelers."
Anderson, 46, was the driving force behind Northwest's high ranking as an on-time carrier among major airlines and spearheaded the development of the new Detroit terminal, said Gary L. Wilson, Northwest chairman.
Anderson joined Northwest in 1990 as vice president and deputy general counsel and is currently responsible for all operating activities, including flight operations, technical operations, ground operations and in-flight services.
"We actually view this as a good move," said Steve MacFarlane, president of Local 33 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.
"Richard Anderson has demonstrated to us that he's an open, honest person. He's always given us an opportunity to discuss our views; he may not always agree with them, but he's straight forward," he said.
MacFarlane said he hopes the announcement won't distract the airline from returning to the bargaining table. But Steenland said they will maintain Northwest's position not to negotiate unless called by the National Mediation Board.
Steenland played a key role in the carrier's alliance with Continental Airlines and enhancing Northwest's relationship with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Wilson said.
Steenland, 49, joined Northwest in 1991 and was named executive vice president and chief corporate officer in 1999. His responsibilities include domestic and international airline alliances, government affairs, legal affairs, labor relations, and corporate communications. He is also general counsel.
"Richard and I are appointed internally and bring a continuity as well as a new generation of leadership," Steenland said.
Northwest has annual revenues in excess of $11 billion and about 55,000 employees worldwide.
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