Jake Brace Leaves United

Last Updated Aug 19, 2008 10:35 AM EDT

If you heard the sounds of wild screams of joy in United hubs last Friday, it was likely United employees reacting to the announcement that Jake Brace would be retiring from his post as the airline's CFO. Kathryn Mikells will take over on November 1.

Why would employees be so excited about a bean counter leaving the airline? Jake Brace has been one of the most polarizing figures at the airline this decade. (He's actually been with the airline for 20 years.) He served as the chief restructuring officer during United's long (and I mean long) bankruptcy. Often, you would hear cries for his head as front line employees were faced with tremendous cuts in pay and benefits.

For that reason alone, I figured that he would depart after taking a fat payday upon exit from bankruptcy in order to begin healing the wounds that were inflicted with his name attached during the bankruptcy process. Whether the cuts were necessary or not is irrelevant. These were still deep cuts that had a major impact on the lives of the front line employees, and healing was necessary. Surprisingly, he continued with the airline long past bankruptcy exit, and I'd argue that his days as union enemy #1 have long passed. All of labor's focus is on CEO Glenn Tilton now, so I'm not sure that this does much to placate them, though clearly it's a move that most employees will welcome.

Why is he leaving? We could speculate about it all day. Maybe he got tired of waiting for the next payday. Maybe he thought there wasn't any more he could do at United. Or maybe he just wanted to get out. No matter what, this does help the airline inch toward closing a very painful chapter in United's history. It just should have come sooner.