The airline industry is dynamic and in constant flux, perfect for entrepreneurial-minded types like Michael Cox ’77, vice chairman of the Seabury Advisory Group. A self-proclaimed airline geek since childhood, Cox has spent nearly 20 years with consulting and overseeing the restructuring of numerous airline clients on a variety of projects, including airline treasury corporate finance and airline restructuring.

Cox joined Business Honors students for lunch on his visit to Mays Business School, where he spoke of the current state of the airline industry and some of the lessons he’s learned in his career.

Globalization is changing the game

“Consolidation of airlines around the world is happening at a faster pace,” Cox said, adding “often at the expense of medium to smaller airlines. Yet we’re also seeing more joint ventures supplanting global airlines in importance.”

He said the most important part of Seabury’s business is restructuring. “Airlines that are restructured are driving global profitability. In order to be effective, the restructuring must be comprehensive, touching everything from labor to network, capacity, fleet and other costs. Not many airlines realize this when they first approach us. We have to show how important a holistic restructuring is.”

Some of the restructuring efforts Cox has led include those for Frontier Airlines, South African Airways, Air Mauritius and Gulf Air. He also led the Seabury team in successfully restructuring the aircraft debt/lease obligations for the reorganization efforts US Airways, Air Canada and Northwest Airlines.

The creative side of finance

Cox earned his bachelor’s of business administration in finance from Texas A&M University and an MBA in finance and accounting from the University of Texas at Austin.

He said he was drawn to the industry by his love of air travel and natural inclination for environments that require creative thinking. “Restructuring in the industry requires being comfortable with risk-taking and ambiguity. I like to think of restructuring as the creative side of finance.”

Be open to others’ perspectives

Some students wanted to hear about what lessons in teamwork he’d learned from his years overseeing negotiations and functioning as a project manager. “I make sure everyone has a voice, from the new college graduate to the veteran consultant,” Cox said. “I’ve learned that you have to respect the other person’s perspective and that it’s OK to not have all the answers.”

Business Honors major Arun Mathew ’19 said the lunch with Cox was a great experience. “He was a very down-to-earth individual, and he made the presentation interesting and interactive,” Mathew said.   

PPA and Business Honors major Preston Pownell ’16 added that he enjoyed the discussion and appreciated the opportunity to “see glimpses into what it truly takes to succeed in an increasingly competitive business environment.”