Donald Nyrop was, indeed, a legendary Airline Chief. He was wooed to Northwest Airlines in 1954, the industry’s youngest chief executive, after serving as Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, precursor to the F.A.A. He found a struggling airline, deep in debt and with a poor safety record. Before he retired , a quarter-century later, Northwest Airlines was one of the country’s most consistently profitable airlines with one of the industry’s best safety record.
To set his leadership tone, in his first year with Northwest he negotiated a new bank credit agreement and on October 29, 1954, the company became debt-free when it prepaid $1,790,000 in loan payments.
“Twenty little metal plates, each six inches long and two inches wide, were pried off 10 Stratocruisers and 10 DC-4s – and, remarkably enough, this simple removal of objects weighing only a few ounces apiece gave the whole airline a bit of buoyancy. This was a feat of finance, rather than engineering. Each plate had been a symbol, and a legal notice, that the plane to which it had been attached was mortgaged.” from Northwest Airlines News, February, 1955.
Nyrop continued to keep an eagle-eye on costs, becoming legendary for his frugality. Joe Leonard, Air Tran Airways C.E.O., worked at Northwest as a power plant engineer during the Nyrop years. “He was a stickler for detail. He would quiz you over and over about your operation. It wasn’t always fun, but you learned from him,” Leonard said.
Wayne Snyder worked for Northwest for 44 years and currently serves on the NWA History Centre board. Snyder praised Nyrop for providing excellent leadership that saved the airline and completing mergers that strengthened it. “He understood the industry. And I think he had some foresight into where it was going. He was an excellent manager,” Snyder said.
Since his death November 16, 2010 at age 98, Donald W. Nyrop has been called an aviation giant, leader, and legend by the national business media. He was all of those things. But to those of us who worked under him during his tenure, he was very approachable and would pitch in to help on a busy flight, help clean up an airplane or quietly cover the hospital expense of an employee’s child.
We miss you, Donald Nyrop. You were not only the legendary leader of an excellent airline, you were a good man of high integrity and sound judgement.
For more about Donald Nyrop, see the following links: