For more than 30 years, Bill Lentsch thrived in the dynamic airline industry. He climbed the executive ranks of Northwest and Delta airlines as they constantly were forced to adapt their products and operating systems to respond to swings in the economy and changing consumer preferences. Now Lentsch is retiring from Delta Air Lines and in October he’ll become the inaugural chief operating officer of the Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Lentsch became well-known in Minnesota business circles after he was named Delta’s senior vice president of Minnesota operations in October 2008, when the Delta-Northwest merger took effect. He served in that Minnesota role for five years, until then-Delta CEO Richard Anderson promoted him to senior vice president of airport customer service. In that position, he oversaw about 25,000 employees across the airline.
That operations expertise was among the qualities that differentiated Lentsch from the field of candidates for the new job of COO in the archdiocese, which has parishes and Catholic programming across the Twin Cities metro area.
“Those who have worked closely with Bill describe him as a servant leader who listens deeply to others to assess challenges and weigh multiple points of view as he collaborates with others to make the best decision possible,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a Wednesday statement announcing Lentsch’s selection.
“I believe Bill has the humble faith, right skills, steady temperament, and real-world outlook to help the Archdiocesan Catholic Center staff continue its improvement in organizational health and effectiveness,” Hebda said.
The archbishop added that the hiring of Lentsch would propel “our wide-reaching effort to improve organizational operations, structures and efficiencies in the archdiocese,” which would support “vibrant parish communities, quality Catholic education, and ready outreach to the poor and marginalized.” Lentsch will work directly with the archbishop and other archdiocesan leaders “to better serve our priests, parish staffs and other Catholic entities in the 12 counties of the archdiocese,” Hebda said.
Strong Catholic ties
The archbishop’s statement said that a search committee and selection team identified Lentsch as the “top choice” from more than 40 candidates. However, Lentsch is no stranger to Hebda. They served together on the board of trustees of the Saint Paul Seminary and Saint John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul.
Lentsch is a native of St. Paul, where he grew up in a large Catholic family. He earned an MBA from the University of St. Thomas, and Lentsch and his wife, Kate, are members of Assumption Parish in St. Paul. Their four children attended Catholic schools in the Twin Cities area.
“I am humbled by this opportunity to serve the same local Catholic community that fed my wife and me spiritually, educated my children, and continues to serve hundreds of thousands of Catholics today,” Lentsch said in a written statement.
Lentsch’s career shift is reminiscent of two Minnesota-based business leaders who moved into leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. Richard Davis became the CEO of Make-A-Wish America in 2019 after a long tenure in the top executive job at U.S. Bancorp. That same year, John Wilgers became president and CEO of the Greater Twin Cities United Way following a long career with Ernst & Young, which culminated with the role of managing partner of EY’s Minneapolis office.
In his final position with Delta, Lentsch served as chief customer experience officer, which involved leadership for employees in airport customer service, in-flight services, reservations and customer care, and consumer insights. That was a particularly important role during the pandemic, which is why Twin Cities Business named Lentsch to the TCB 100 list of people to watch in 2021.
Previously, he served as executive vice president of flying/air operations, meaning he oversaw the work of more than 24,000 flight attendants and 13,000 pilots. In this job and other executive posts, Lentsch commuted between Delta’s Atlanta headquarters and his home in the Twin Cities.
Although he endured a hectic travel schedule, it allowed Lentsch and his family to maintain their home in Minnesota and he remained involved in Twin Cities activities. This month, Lentsch was among seven Minnesotans honored by Northern Star Scouting for their community leadership and positive impact on youth. Lentsch was recognized for his 15 years of involvement with Serving Our Troops.
Lentsch will talk about leadership, community service and his airline industry career on August 3, when he is the 1st Tuesday series speaker at the Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis.