Keith Loveless '83 (AS’79), who joined the Seattle-based Alaska Air Group 25 years ago as a corporate lawyer, is the subject of a recent profile in the National Law Journal and has been honored as Corporate Counsel of the Year by the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Loveless is a native of Alabama who earned both his undergraduate and law degrees at Vanderbilt, but he has spent much of his legal career in Seattle with Alaska Airlines and Alaska Air Group, which also operates Horizon Airlines. Together, the companies have annual revenues of about $4 Billion dollars and 13,000 employees. Alaska Airlines' purchase of Horizon, a regional carrier also based in Seattle, was the first major project Loveless handled after joining Alaska Airlines as a staff attorney in 1986, after practicing for three years with Bogle & Gates.
Loveless was named vice president of legal and corporate affairs, general counsel and corporate secretary in 1999. A decade later, Horizon and Alaska Airlines legal departments were consolidated under his leadership; he now heads a department of 10 attorneys and 45 employees.
As Alaska Airlines’ in-house counsel, Loveless has helped negotiate labor and employment agreements for employees represented by six bargaining groups and helped his company hammer out benefits plans, navigate securities regulation and compliance and governance issues, and finance and acquire new airplanes. He also advises the company’s board; oversees its ethics and compliance programs, accounting audits and safety and operational audits; and supervises litigation. "I tell my kids that I I help run a company every day," Loveless told an interviewer from the Puget Sound Business Journal. "That’s how I feel about my job."
In January 2000, three months after Loveless became Alaska Airlines’ top counsel, Flight 261 crashed off the coast of California, killing all 88 people on board. Loveless recalls learning "a lot about crisis management" as he worked with the board of directors to create the first board‐level safety committee established by any airline, worked with a team of company executives to develop and implement a stringent risk management and safety audit program, and settled claims brought by families affected by the crash. "It was probably the greatest challenge of my career," he told the National Law Journal in an interview published April 11, 2011. "It consumed me for a couple of years."
The airline was still dealing with the aftermath of the crash when the terrorist attacks of 9-11 dealt the airline industry a severe financial blow. Loveless helped the airline weather the challenging years immediately following 9‐11, in which many financially troubled airlines declared bankruptcy, as well as the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse. While many airlines declared bankruptcy over the course of the decade, Loveless advised Alaska Air Group to avoid that path. “Reorganizing under Chapter 11 could have given us a way to restructure debt, reduce costs and get relief from burdensome pension obligations,” Alaska Group CEO Bill Ayer told the Puget Sound Business Journal. “Keith was of the opinion that, despite the short‐term relief it would bring, taking that path would permanently damage the company’s culture, breaking trust with our long and proud history of finding a way to overcome difficult challenges — a point of pride for employees. As a result of not taking the easy way out, but rather taking the difficult steps to transform our business outside of bankruptcy, we have gained valuable experience that will serve us well for years to come. In addition to his high ethical standards, he brings a seasoned and balanced perspective to senior management and board deliberations that appropriately takes into consideration the long‐term success of the company as well as the legal risks. He is known for providing sound, practical advice, and his counsel is sought out by colleagues and coworkers.”
Alaska Airlines was the most profitable airline in America in both 2009 and 2010, and was the top airline in the key areas of on-time performance and customer satisfaction. “Keith has been a key contributor to a decade‐long company transformation at Alaska Airlines that culminated in record profits and operating performance for 2010,” Ayer said.
During law school, Loveless took a two-semester break from his studies to hitchhike all over the country. "That was the best time of my life," he recalls. He still enjoys getting out in the countryside – "I'd much rather go camping than stay at a Ritz Carlton," he said – and recently returned from a two-week bicycling trip in Vietnam. He lives in Seattle with his wife, Beth Rogers Loveless ’82 (AS’79), and their two daughters. He is on the boards of the Seattle Art Museum, ArtsFund, and the Washington Wildlife Recreation Coalition.