Marketing Expert Worked at American, Continental : Pan Am Reportedly to Name Plaskett

Times Staff Writer

Thomas G. Plaskett, a highly regarded airline executive whose expertise is in marketing, is expected to be named head of troubled Pan Am Corp., industry sources said.

The appointment was to have been made at a board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. However, at the last minute, the meeting was postponed until Thursday, a delay that may indicate that there has been a hitch in the appointment.

Plaskett, 44, has had a rapid rise in the airline industry. While he was head of marketing at American Airlines, he was credited with creating the popular frequent-flier programs that have revolutionized the industry.

Most recently, he was president and chief executive of Continental Airlines, a post he held for less than a year. During his short tenure at Continental, he was credited with instituting MaxSaver fares that also had a major effect on the way all carriers priced their seats.

He resigned from Continental under fire last July when he encountered what were described as "management differences" with Frank Lorenzo, chairman of Texas Air, Continental's parent company. When Plaskett left, Lorenzo assumed the Continental post.

If Plaskett is appointed chief executive of Pan American, the move would end many months of clamoring by labor unions of Pan American World Airways, a Pan Am Corp. subsidiary, for new management of the company, which has suffered major losses in recent years. Plaskett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Shouting Match at Meeting

In the past several months, numerous wealthy investors, including Los Angeles financier Kirk Kerkorian and Anglo-French investor Sir James Goldsmith, have looked into the possibility of investing in Pan Am.

In the most recent case, Braniff Inc., the Dallas-based airline, expressed interest in Pan American, and a deal was almost consummated. Pan Am would reportedly have spun off Pan American World Airways, and the airline and Braniff would have been merged. Pan Am Corp. would have retained other subsidiaries, such as the shuttle that operates between New York, Boston and Washington.

But the negotiations reportedly resulted in a bitter shouting match during a Pan Am board meeting between Chairman C. Edward Acker and Vice Chairman Martin R. Shugrue Jr. Shugrue was against Acker's plan to spin off the airline and sell it to Jay A. Pritzker, the Chicago investor who is Braniff's major shareholder. The men also disagreed on the value of concessions that the corporation sought from its unions.

One source close to the situation said before the postponement of the Pan Am board meeting that it appeared that Acker would be "kicked upstairs" and that Shugrue was "out, dead." However, observers said, the delay may indicate changes in the plan.

Has the Expertise

Analyst Paul Karos of L. F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin said Tuesday that if Plaskett were hired by Pan Am, the carrier "would benefit by his ability to improve its domestic route system. That is important so it can improve the feed to its overseas routes to remain competitive."

Karos said Plaskett, besides shoring up Pan Am's marketing, has the financial expertise to cut costs, to tackle the overseas business problems that have resulted from the falling dollar and to improve the airline's relationship with its five unions.

Before joining Continental in October, 1986, Plaskett had been senior vice president of AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines. Before going to work for American, he had spent 12 years with General Motors in various manufacturing and financial positions. He is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

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