Sun Country CEO Makes Surprising, Sudden Departure
Stan Gadek, Sun Country Airlines’ CEO for nearly five years, reportedly left the company Wednesday—news that came as a surprise to many.
The board of MN Airlines, which does business as Sun Country Airlines, told media Wednesday afternoon that Gadek was being replaced on an interim basis by Vice President and General Counsel John Fredericksen.
“The board wishes Mr. Gadek well, and appreciates the many good works he performed in his nearly five-year term as the leader of Sun Country Airlines,” the airline said in a statement.
Phone calls to multiple Sun Country representatives, including Fredericksen, were not returned Thursday morning—and Gadek couldn’t be reached at his home.
Gadek is perhaps best known for guiding the company through bankruptcy and returning it to profitability.
In fact, air-travel expert and consultant Terry Trippler told Twin Cities Business on Wednesday that “the only reason that there’s a Sun Country Airlines today is because of Stan Gadek,” adding, “He saved that airline.”
Mendota Heights-based Sun Country filed for Chapter 11 protection in October 2008, just three days after Tom Petters—then the airline’s majority stockholder—was arrested on charges related to investment fraud and less than six months after Gadek took the reins of the then-financially struggling company. The filing allowed Sun Country to separate itself from the other Petters companies that were being taken over by a court appointee. (Petters is now serving a 50-year sentence for running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of an estimated $3.65 billion.)
With Gadek at the helm, the fourth quarter of 2008 was Sun Country’s first profitable quarter in five years. And after major losses in 2007 and 2008, the airline reported profits totaling $1.4 million in 2009 and $13 million in 2010.
The company, which has not revealed financial data in recent years, emerged from bankruptcy in February 2011. In July of that same year, it was sold for $34 million to a private company owned by the family of Mark Davis, which owns Le Sueur-based Cambria Holdings, LLC, a manufacturer and retailer of quartz countertops. The Davises, who are from St. Peter, also own Eden Prairie-based Davisco Foods International, Inc.
Following the sale, Sun Country said that no changes to its operations, management team, headquarters, or frequent-flyer program were planned. And Gadek told Twin Cities Business at the time that the Davises were the “perfect owners—the best alignment I could hope to achieve,” adding that they would work to identify “synergies for cross-marketing” opportunities with the Cambria brand.
Trippler pointed out that in addition to leading the company through bankruptcy, Gadek came up with some innovative ways to earn money—including running military charters at night when the company’s planes weren’t being used and by forming lease agreements with other airlines that allowed it to boost capacity during peak travel periods and reduce capacity during slow periods.
Wendy Williams Blackshaw, Sun Country’s former marketing vice president, was one of many surprised by Gadek’s departure. She left the airline about a year ago but said Gadek seemed to be well liked by the Davis family.
However, she is confident that the transition between Gadek and Fredericksen—who’s been at the company for 10 years— will be smooth.
“John is . . . fantastic,” she said. “It will be a smooth transition because he has been there and everyone knows him. He knows the airline industry.”
Dan Boivin, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, was also surprised by Wednesday’s news.
“He was a great leader for the company. We worked with him well,” Boivin told the Star Tribune. “I hope this is not a sign of major issues at the airline. We want to keep making them successful.”
Sun Country, which employed more than 800 at the time it was purchased by the Davis family, flies to more than 30 destinations in the United States, Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.