Work for Apple or Work for an Airline? United CFO Steps Down.

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) - The chief financial officer of United ( UAL) is leaving the carrier to join Apple ( APPL).

United said Monday that Zane Rowe, 41, will leave to take a job at Apple, and will be succeeded by John Rainey. Associated Press reported that Rowe will be a vice president of sales at Apple.

Although no reason for Rowe's departure was offered, it should be obvious that while many people who work in the airline industry love it, there are financial drawbacks to working in an industry that has lost money since the Wright Brothers first flew.

Let us briefly compare the two companies. In the first quarter, United is expected to lose about $300 million and Apple is expected to earn around $10 billion. United will say that the first quarter is typically slow for airlines, and Apple will say it cannot see any slow quarters in the near future.

Whatever happens on the day earnings are reported, it is safe to say that some number of United customers will be angry about something that happened during their travels, while tens of thousands of Apple customers will be delighted with their new iPod, iPhone or iPad.

Yes, the Apple store, like the airport parking lot, is always full, but somehow people are conditioned to find happiness in the Apple store and to assume that something bad will happen in the security line or during the flight or in the traffic jam as they leave the airport. All too often, these expectations are self-fulfilling.

Rowe joined Continental in 1993 and rose through the ranks, becoming CFO in 2008. In that position, he was a key member of a team of executives who came from Houston-based Continental to Chicago to run the world's biggest airline.

Aviation consultant Robert Mann says that perhaps Rowe wants "a change of pace after going through the restructuring." While the airline industry is plagued with daily problems from rising fuel prices to bad weather to high taxation and continued Congressional meddling - some members of Congress want to regulate the number of bags that can be checked for free! - "at Apple, all you have to do is figure out how to distribute the dividend," Mann says.

"While we are sorry Zane has decided to leave, we are excited to have such a talented executive as John Rainey become our chief financial officer," said United CEO Jeff Smisek, in a prepared statement.

An Apple spokesman told the AP that Rowe "built a great team at United and we think he is going to do a fantastic job at Apple."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte

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