Gerald Greenwald knows the day will come when there will be a
test of who is in charge at employee-owned United Airlines.
He believes he will be ready to pass that test and keep the
expectations of United's new majority owners in line with the
realities of the airline business.
It is a test that most observers believe will do much to
determine the success of one of the boldest experiments in American
industry. If shareholders approve the sale of 53 percent of
United's stock to its workers, the airline will become the largest
employee-owned company in the United States.
The Clinton administration has played more than a passing role
in nurturing the United deal, which was described in detail to
financial analysts here this week. Top officials at the Labor
Department say the United brand of employee ownership could be a
model, if it includes a large measure of employee participation in
running the company.
It is the degree of participation, and how it is handled, that
has led some skeptics of the deal to question whether employees now
will believe they will be calling the shots.
"I will be tested," said Greenwald, who will become chief
executive of United. Greenwald, a former Chrysler Corp. executive,
is a native of University City, Mo.
"I hope to respond in the right way, keeping in mind that the
first priority is the airline passenger. If I keep my bearings and
do it right, I think (employee) expectations will be realistic and
"Management must realize that there are some things that need
to be done to encourage employee involvement and that there are
some things that need to be done to make sure that there are smiles
on people's faces when they greet passengers," Greenwald said.
It may be late June before Greenwald gets to put all of his
ideas into action. The Securities and Exchange Commission must
approve the details of the United deal, which takes at least 30
days, and then the company's shareholders get 30 days to look it
over before they vote.
If they vote in favor, each United share will be swapped for
half a share of new United stock and a mix of preferred stock,
debentures and cash worth $88. However, some Wall Street analysts
questioned some of those numbers, pointing out that the latest
gyrations in the bond markets strained the assumptions in the deal.
While there was sharp questioning from the analysts about the
effect of the deal on United's long-term future and about whether
shareholders are getting full value, there also seems to be a
consensus that shareholders will OK the deal. …