Gary L. Wilson
Net Worth: $550 million
Source of Wealth: Investments
Residence: Bel Air
Gary L. Wilson’s fortunes took off after he and Al Checchi became part of a group that gained control of Northwest Airlines Inc. through a leveraged buyout in 1989.
Wilson’s $20 million original investment is now worth around $440 million, based on Northwest’s share price last week of $40. That’s down sharply from March, when the airline was trading at around $60.
Since his long-time friend and business partner Checchi gave up the co-chairmanship of Northwest in April 1997 to run for governor of California, Wilson has been calling the shots at the airline.
He pioneered the use of alliances with other airlines to generate revenues. Northwest initiated the alliance trend in 1992 by forming a partnership with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Such alliances, which have proliferated in recent years, range from flight-code sharing to stock swaps, and have allowed Northwest to expand its flight network both in the U.S. and internationally.
A native of Ohio, Wilson earned an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1975, he hired Checchi, the nephew of a business partner, initiating their long-standing relationship.
Before jumping into the airline business, Wilson worked for 11 years at Marriott Corp. in various executive positions, including executive vice president and chief financial officer.
While at Marriott, Wilson again hired Checchi, who had just graduated from Harvard, and together they set about creating a new financial strategy for the hotel chain. He then joined Walt Disney Co, where he was chief financial officer until 1990.
Wilson still serves on Disney’s board and is said to remain one of Michael Eisner’s closest confidants. That relationship is likely to strengthen following the resignation of Disney’s CFO Richard Nanula in April.
Although Northwest is based in St. Paul, Minn., Wilson’s primary residence is in Bel Air, just up the road from Checchi’s house in Beverly Hills.