NEW YORK — Stephen M. Wolf, an airline executive known for his ability to rescue failing carriers, was named Wednesday to head Allegis Corp., parent company of United Airlines.
The move ends months of uncertainty at Chicago-based Allegis that began last June when Chairman Richard J. Ferris was fired over unhappiness by unions and investors with his plans to turn the corporation into an "integrated" travel empire consisting, to begin with, of hotel chains and a rental car company, as well as the airline.
Wolf, 46, resigned Wednesday as head of Los Angeles-based Tiger International and its major subsidiary, the Flying Tiger air cargo line, to take the new job, which he begins on Saturday. Wolf, known as a workaholic who expects the same from his colleagues, has also worked at Republic Airlines (now merged into Northwest Airlines), Continental Airlines, Pan American World Airways and American Airlines.
Wolf's appointment will allow Frank Olson, Allegis' current chairman, to move back to the Hertz rental car company, which he and a group of others are in the process of purchasing from Allegis for $1.3 billion. Olson joined UAL Inc.--as the corporation was known until it changed its name to Allegis last February--when it acquired Hertz in 1985 and has been serving until a successor was found.
With its other major subsidiaries--Hertz and the Hilton International and Westin hotel chains--either sold or in the process of being disposed of, the corporation plans early next year to bury the Allegis name and to call itself United Airlines Inc. The company is still trying to sell up to 49% of its computerized reservation system, named Covina/Apollo.
Allegis seemed delighted with its hiring of Wolf, who will be chairman and chief executive of the parent firm and president and chief executive of the airline. Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, an Allegis director and chairman of the company's executive search committee, said, "Stephen Wolf has an impeccable record of performance, covering strategic initiatives, innovative marketing, financial acumen and the positive leadership of people, all of which are critical to United's future."
Wolf was not available Wednesday for comment on his plans for his new company. A United spokesman, Dan Sheehy, said Wolf returned to Los Angeles immediately after the Allegis board meeting. Allegis declined to say how much Wolf will be paid in his new job.
At 6 feet, 6 inches tall, Wolf is an imposing figure. He is energetic, often behind his desk at 7 a.m. and working late into the evening, and is a stickler for detail. He often gets into the nitty-gritty of the carriers he heads, monitoring ticket lines and telephone traffic to make sure that customers do not have to wait too long.
While chief executive at Republic, he earned a reputation as an executive who could deal effectively with labor.
"He can be disarming to some adversaries," said a close associate, Jeffrey Kriendler, who is a senior vice president at Pan American. "Even in labor negotiations, he will maintain a good sense of humor and endear himself to those adversaries. No matter how critical a situation may become, he has that sense of humor, and he uses that levity very efficiently."
But his reputation as a favorite of the unions faded a bit at Tiger, where he won massive wage concessions from its 6,500 employees after threatening to sell the troubled cargo carrier.
In a dispute over an attendance policy last spring, Louis R. Schroeder, president of Flying Tiger's machinists union, likened Wolf to Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Paul Phillips, an official of Flying Tiger's pilots union, said Wednesday, "I don't think many will miss him."
But Flying Tiger is expected to earn a profit this year, its first yearly profit since 1982. When Wolf joined the airline in August, 1986, it was losing $74,600 a day.
Search for Chairman
In the wake of Wolf's resignation from Tiger International, James A. Cronin was elected president of the company, and it was announced that he will continue as president and chief operating officer of Flying Tiger. He became president of Flying Tiger in September after serving as senior vice president for marketing.
The 33-year-old Cronin, a former First Interstate banker, joined Flying Tiger in 1980 and is credited with trimming losses in its troubled domestic operations by dropping unprofitable routes and establishing hubs in key cities. He is liked by labor.
He apparently is not in contention for Wolf's job as chairman and chief executive of the airline, or its holding company. A spokesman for New York investor Saul P. Steinberg, Tiger International's biggest shareholder and a director, said the board plans to "go to the outside" for a new chairman.