The surprise and blunt departure of Sun Country Airlines Chief Executive Stan Gadek two weeks ago was a mutual decision between Gadek and Sun Country’s board of directors, the airline announced Thursday.
“Although I am sorry to see Stan move on, this is a positive move forward for all parties,” Sun Country Chairman Marty Davis said in a statement to the Star Tribune.
In an interview Thursday, Davis added: “We just agreed that what we were looking at was not what he was looking at and that it was a good time to move on.”
In the statement, Gadek said, “I accomplished what I set out to do for this airline and it was time to explore other opportunities. My mission was to get this airline on solid footing, poised for a bright future and we achieved that.”
Gadek, who ran the airline for nearly five years, took over as CEO in 2008 just as it was tail-spinning into bankruptcy. Gadek is credited with turning Sun Country into a solid moneymaking operation within two years of his arrival, which coincided with the Great Recession and the implosion of then-owner Tom Petters’ massive Ponzi scheme.
“Sun Country is a very competitive airline. It has flights to all of the sun and vacation destinations,” said Cindy Nelson, general manager for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, who works on the leisure side of the travel agency giant. “It’s a question of being able to focus on the right flights to the right destinations at the right time. A great deal of the leisure business booked out of MSP is on Sun Country.”
Davis and his southern Minnesota family, known for their business successes in dairy cattle, cheese production and Cambria quartz countertops, acquired Sun Country in 2011 for $34 million from the bankruptcy estate of felon Petters.
In an interview late last year, Davis told the Star Tribune that his family and the airline’s board run Sun Country in “a very arm’s-length way.”
But new owners and entrenched executives don’t always mix.
“The idea of wanting more control over an acquisition is a good reason to part ways,” said Alfred Marcus, a strategic management professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “There could have been very different vision over where the two sides wanted to go and who wanted control.”
Indeed, Davis acknowledged that the board and Gadek had different views of the future of Sun Country, although he also called the lifelong airline executive “an inspirational and transformative leader.”
Sun Country currently is being run by interim CEO John Fredericksen, a 10-year veteran at the airline who was vice president and general counsel.
Davis said in an interview that Fredericksen will serve as CEO for the foreseeable future.
“We’re real pleased with John,” Davis said. “We’re looking to develop a good solid team that has depth. We’ll decide in the next six months to a year if we want to add more talent to that group.”
Gadek, 61, who could not be reached for further comment, praised the appointment of Fredericksen in the statement.
“The company could not be in better hands, excellent owners in the Davis family and a strong, steady, and most capable CEO in John,” Gadek said in the statement. “While I am sad to leave the great many friends I have made here at Sun Country, I am excited to start a new chapter in my career.”