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CFO Heads North to Rejoin Northwest

Neal Cohen leaves the top finance slot at US Airways to rejoin the airline he left in 2000 as senior vice president and treasurer.
Stephen TaubMay 5, 2005

Financially troubled Northwest Airlines Corp. has named Neal Cohen as its new executive vice president and chief financial officer.

He replaces Bernard L. Han, who resigned. The airline did not provide additional details about Han’s departure or whether he has another job. In a statement, president and chief executive officer Doug Steenland said: “We sincerely appreciate Bernie’s contributions during a critical time for Northwest Airlines. Bernie has built a strong finance team that, under his leadership, helped reduce significantly our non-labor costs while maintaining one of the best liquidity positions in the industry.”

This is Cohen’s second stint with Minneapolis-based Northwest; from 1991 to 2000, he held a number of senior marketing and finance positions, including senior vice president and treasurer. Likewise, Han had spent five years at that airline before joining the parent company of America West Airlines in 1995, reported The Wall Street Journal; he eventually rose to the position of finance chief before taking that same position back at Northwest. (In February we wrote about how some CFOs can’t resist returning to their old companies, even if it means returning to a mess.)

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In 2000, Cohen departed Northwest for then-troubled insurer Conseco, added the Journal He departed in 2002, the year Conseco declared bankruptcy, for US Airways, where was executive vice president of finance and chief financial officer until April 2004. According to Minneapolis’ Pioneer Press, Cohen stirred up a fair amount of resentment among US Airways’ pilots during his tenure there as CFO.

The pilots accused Cohen and former US Airways CEO David Siegel of failing to keep promises made during the carrier’s first foray into Chapter 11, according to the paper, and called for the resignation of both executives that December. US Airways emerged from bankruptcy in March 2003, only to file for Chapter 11 again in September 2004.

“Out of the first bankruptcy, they completely wasted the resources they were given to turn the airline around,” US Airways pilot’s union spokesman Jack Stephan told the paper. “We — labor — were not seeing progress made.”

When he left the Arlington, Virginia-based airline, Cohen received $1.5 million to $2.5 million in severance, according to the Pioneer Press, which cited published reports.

Northwest also announced this week that vice president of financial planning and analysis T. Jeffrey Putnam has been promoted to senior vice president of finance.

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