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Sean Menke Leaves Frontier Airlines, This Can't Be Good

Sean Menke is leaving Frontier Airlines, and that scares me. Usually a good airline turnaround story has a hero behind it. With Continental (CAL), for example, it was Gordon Bethune. While many know his name, few probably know Sean Menke. I remain convinced that Sean is the reason that Frontier still flying today, and now he's leaving as parent-company Republic consolidates management in Indianapolis. It looks like Republic doesn't quite understand the value of the Frontier culture and brand. This may come back to bite them.

Frontier was in dire shape when it went into bankruptcy, yet somehow Sean and his team were able to steer the company through the process and bring it out mostly in tact. One thing Frontier had was a great culture, a great brand, and tremendous loyalty in Denver. Sean nurtured the culture and kept it strong when the airline came out the other side under the Republic umbrella.

Republic is an airline that has done a great job as a regional but knows nothing about a brand. Sure, it dipped its toe in with the ill-fated Mokulele venture in Hawai'i. Then it bought the ashes of Midwest along with Frontier. While Frontier's brand remained strong, Midwest's had effectively been gutted already. The true brand knowledge was with Sean Menke and the rest of the Frontier team, and that should have been used to guide the organization.

Things were looking to be on the right track back in October when Republic named Sean as Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer. I, however, was still cautious in my post on the subject:

Frontier has built itself a strong culture in Denver, and they have that "hometown airline" aura around them. If decisions start being made in Indianapolis independent of the brand, that could be disastrous for the airline's reputation.
It looks like Republic CEO Bryan Bedford isn't heeding those warnings. Though I don't know for sure, I have to think this is Sean's choice completely. Why is that? Well in the very same press release, Republic announced that it is consolidating "all executive management functions" in Indianapolis. I don't know either of them, but I imagine the conversation went like this:

Bryan: Soooo, Sean, we're gonna keep integrating and move everyone to Indy Sean: Are you kidding me? You're going to kill everything we've built at Frontier Bryan: Bummer Sean: I'm out

Republic doesn't know the first thing about branding, and something tells me that they aren't too concerned about it. They think they're on to something, and I think it could be disastrous for them. If Frontier loses its hometown loyalty, there's nothing left. United (UAL) and Southwest (LUV) will be happy to welcome customers with open arms. And in Milwaukee? Well, there's AirTran and Southwest knocking on the door there.

I really hope Bryan Bedford knows what he's doing, but I am very concerned.