Even if you're not a fan of American Airlines, you have to give American CEO Doug Parker credit for putting his money where is mouth is.

Parker famously takes 100 percent of his compensation in stock -- no cash. So, if American does well over time, he could do very well. And if it does poorly he could wind up working for a lot less.

It also means he might be the only CEO of a publicly traded company who has to write a personal check to pay his employer for his health insurance. (As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, since he's not technically on American's payroll, there is no paycheck from which Parker's insurance premiums can be deducted.)

But this week, he wrote an even bigger check to American Airlines -- and people are having a hard time deciding what to think.

The 'American 6'

On Tuesday, Parker spent $1.4 million to buy buy 50,000 more shares of American's stock.

Five other top American executives and directors-- we'll call them the American 6 -- followed Parker's lead, including airline president Robert Isom, buying just shy of another $1.7 million worth of American stock among them.

Those are decent numbers, but as J.T. Genter at The Points Guy pointed out, the six executives -- who happen to be the six whose profiles and photos are on American's website -- own about $129 Million in American stock among them.

"These share purchases are not part of our compensation package. They were purchased solely because of the value we see in American today and over time," the six American  executives said in a letter to employees.

$15 million in gains

The timing of all of this is interesting, to say the least, since American's stock was near its lowest point in about five years when they made the purchases, and the airline is now in the middle of a battle with its own machinists' union.

But, because they certainly knew that their purchases would become public under Securities and Exchange Commission reporting rules, they also had to have known that it could affect the stock price.

In the short term, it's worked out for them big time.

After news of their purchases broke, American's stock surged about 12 percent, which means that they made $300.000 on the shares they bough this week -- and $15 million on the stock they already own.

Parker's big bet

Parker has a history of betting big on American's stock price. He doesn't always win.

For example, in September 2017, he publicly bet an airline analyst that American's stock price would be over $60 a share on the analyst's 60th birthday in November 2018.

American fell about $10 billion in market capitalization short of the wager. Parker reportedly wound up taking the analyst out for dinner and drinks to pay up, according to Genter.

But the effect of the massive stock purchase by the American 6 suggests maybe there was another solution for him. There are at least two explanations for their sudden decision to buy so much stock.

Either they know something the rest of us don't about the airline's future, and they had good reason to think they'd make a killing.

Or, alternatively, perhaps they also hoped that the news that they used their own money to buy their company's stock would in itself bump up the price -- a sort of "fake it until you make it" strategy, but one that you'd think could only work temporarily.

All of which leaves employees, passengers and investors on the outside wondering.

Is this a truly brilliant move on their part? Or is it totally insane?

Published on: Jun 8, 2019
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