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There’s no such thing as an airline pilot who specializes in crash landings. But the legal world definitely harbors specialists in rebuilding companies that have crashed. When Chicago-based United Airlines Corporation’s chief executive officer, Glenn Tilton, hired Paul Lovejoy as senior vice president and general counsel in June, some people probably assumed the CEO was cherry-picking a bankruptcy pro to help him rebuild the ailing airline. After all, he chose a partner from the nation’s biggest bankruptcy firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges. There’s one problem with that theory, though: Lovejoy is not a bankruptcy lawyer. Since December, when United filed the largest bankruptcy in the airline industry’s history, Tilton has slowly but surely been shedding executives and replacing them with M&A experts. Board members, the heads of marketing, government relations, and onboard services, and others have quietly departed. Meanwhile the company’s CFO, who led a failed attempt to acquire U.S. Airways, Inc., before Tilton came aboard, was promoted to executive vice president for strategy. The departure of ten-year veteran GC Francesca Maher in June continued this trend. Maher returned to her old firm, Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw. And within 24 hours of her departure, the company announced that Lovejoy was the new GC. “It was a little bit of a leap,” Lovejoy, 48, says about his hiring. “I’m not a bankruptcy specialist; I’m a corporate transactions lawyer.” Lovejoy says that he and Tilton had been talking privately for some time about the job. The two have known each other since 1996, when they worked at Texaco Inc. They became friends when Tilton was the lead business negotiator and Lovejoy was the lead Texaco attorney in the intense two-year negotiations that combined much of Texaco’s and Shell Oil Company’s U.S. operations. In 1999 Lovejoy left to join Weil, Gotshal in its New York offices. Tilton, meanwhile, stayed at Texaco, negotiating a $40 billion merger with Chevron Company in 2001 and becoming CEO. In September 2001 Tilton became United’s new CEO, and soon thereafter called his old buddy to see whether he’d come aboard too. Both Tilton and Lovejoy share a passion for transactions. Will United escape bankruptcy through sale to another company? Lovejoy doesn’t rule it out but warns not to read too much into his hiring. “I’m not sure it would be wise to draw any conclusions that this is a setup,” he says. “But obviously, my first challenge here is to get the company out of bankruptcy.”

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