Sky Talk

American Airlines CEO goes back to the future at old headquarters

Wandering through dark halls and up and down fire escapes, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker found his original cubicle at the airline’s old headquarters.

“It looks exactly the same. I mean it’s eerie,” Parker said as he opened the drawers to his old desk. “This is where it all started. In this cube.”

Parker began his career at American in 1986 as a financial analyst in the complex on Trinity Boulevard. Now, as CEO, he’s planning to tear the old building down and construct a new $350 million corporate campus where about 5,000 employees will run the airline.

Earlier this month, Parker toured the old building, which served as the first formal headquarters for American after the company moved from New York. Built in the early 1980s, it has sat vacant since 2009. He reminisced about eating “Tabasco-friendly” lunches in the basement cafeteria with his fellow finance department colleagues, who included Tom Horton, former CEO of American; and David Cush, CEO of Virgin America. The cafeteria food was so bad, Parker said, that they would use entire bottles of Tabasco to make it taste better.

“This is nostalgic, yes, and it’s nice to come see again, but this needs to go,” said Parker, who went on to become an executive at Northwest Airlines, America West and then US Airways, which merged with American two years ago. “It’s from a different era. But this is the perfect location for where our management team should be, near the rest of the team.”

The Fort Worth-based carrier moved into the building at 13951 Trinity Blvd. in 1983. It then moved into its existing headquarters on Amon Carter Boulevard, on the east side of Texas 360, in 1990 and moved its Sabre Holdings division into the old building. After Sabre was spun off and moved to Southlake, the building was subleased until it was vacated in 2009.

Standing on the patio outside the office once occupied by legendary American CEO Bob Crandall, Parker said he doesn’t remember ever being called up to the CEO’s office there.

“I’ve never been out on this deck,” Parker said. “This was for a privileged few.”

The building is filled with old office chairs and cubicles. Insulation and tiles are falling out of the ceiling in some places and smoke stains from executives’ cigarettes are visible in conference room air filters.

American will take the building apart piece by piece to preserve as many trees and shrubs as possible on the property. A creek runs through the property, and American plans to build a bridge to connect the headquarters campus to its flight training academy directly to the north. The location is also close to its new integrated operations center, which opened this year closer to Texas 183.

Parker said plans for the new headquarters have not been finalized, although American has hired an architect . It will have more open space and won’t be filled with cubicles. A groundbreaking is expected in mid-2016, and the campus should be completed by fall 2018.

American plans to locate more employees at its new headquarters including information technology workers currently working in Tempe, Ariz. Parker said the company plans to shift some of the Arizona employees to Fort Worth and hire more IT workers in the Metroplex. Parker added that American does not plan to close its Tempe location.

“We’re trying to get as many people into this new facility as we can because the whole point is to get everyone together, working together,” Parker said.

Parker said the airline also wants to create a place where people play together. There is a softball field on the property where Parker remembers playing with his co-workers. Executives want to keep the field, especially Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr, who played catcher for the University of Michigan baseball team. But the company may need that location for another use, Parker said.

“The softball field is a challenge. We want to keep it. It’s historic. … I played out there,” Parker said with a smile.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk