A former buy-sider who joined United Airlines as head of IR in 2018 has been named CFO at the company, as Gerry Laderman steps into an executive vice president of finance role ahead of his planned retirement in September 2024.
Michael Leskinen joined the airline in 2018 as managing director of IR, before adding corporate development to his role a year later. He served in investor relations until June 2021, getting the seal of approval from the investment community when he was short-listed for the best investor relations officer (small to mid-cap) trophy at the IR Magazine Awards – US 2021, before taking on a position in United Airlines Ventures (UAV).
Last month, Leskinen was named CFO and executive vice president of the third-largest airline in the US, four months after Laderman – who has been with United for 13 years, more than five of them as CFO – announced he would retire in 2024.
With the IR team reporting to the CFO, Leskinen maintains his IR connections. As well as investor relations, Leskinen now oversees corporate finance, treasury, financial planning and analysis, tax, accounting, procurement, internal audit, risk management and corporate strategy.
‘With two decades of experience on Wall Street and five years as a leading finance executive at United, Mike brings a unique understanding of the public markets combined with an in-depth understanding of our airline and our industry,’ says Scott Kirby, CEO, in a statement.
‘He is the best person to help us drive a culture within our finance team that’s focused on moving fast, hitting our targets with no excuses and being disciplined about capital and cost decision-making that supports our United Next plan. I know Mike will bring a strong and independent strategic perspective to the table when we’re making decisions about United’s future.’
Sustainability and pandemic endurance
Writing on LinkedIn, Leskinen says that ‘over the course of two decades in aerospace finance, I’ve been most energized by the challenges United Airlines has faced head-on during the pandemic and to address climate change’, and the company also talks about his achievements in both these areas.
Talking about UAV, which the company describes as ‘an industry-first corporate venture capital fund’ that identifies and invests in air travel decarbonization opportunities and which Leskinen led from 2021 until September 2023, the company points to investments in carbon capture and utilization technologies, advanced biologic feedstocks including micro-algae, electric fixed-wing regional aircraft and electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
United also notes Leskinen’s achievements during the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘In 2020, Leskinen led the multi-divisional team that successfully raised $6.8 bn of financing secured by the airline’s MileagePlus loyalty program,’ notes a statement. This allowed United ‘critical financial flexibility to manage through the pandemic’.
More recently, United says Leskinen oversaw the launch of a nearly $200 mn corporate investment fund to support start-ups focused on accelerating the research and production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel.
The University of Pennsylvania MBA holder joined United from JPMorgan Asset Management, where he led the firm’s investment efforts in aerospace, defense and airlines. Before that, he served at Oppenheimer Funds with a focus on the aerospace sector.