Matthew Knopf joined Delta Air Lines in 2015 from the international law firm of Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis, where he led their Mergers and Acquisitions practice. He currently serves as the senior vice president and deputy general counsel at Delta, where he is responsible (along with the chief legal officer) for leading the law department and overseeing corporate transactions, M&A, strategic alliances and equity investments, SEC reporting and corporate governance, aircraft transactions, corporate real estate, and airport infrastructure projects. His wife, Terri Bonoff, is CEO of Jewish Family and Career Services. Knopf received his undergraduate degree from Stony Brook University in New York, and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.
Jaffe: Who got the job here first, you or Terri?
Knopf: When I was recruited to join Delta, I hadn’t thought about leaving private practice, which I loved. The chance to join a unique company like Delta in a leadership role was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The decision was even more complicated since Terri, at that time, was a sitting Minnesota state senator in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. We have four grown children scattered across the U.S. and decided as a family to make this move knowing it would be easier to fly and visit our children working for an airline.
Jaffe: Has Southern life been different?
Knopf: I grew up in New York City but had been in the Midwest starting with law school, then moving to Minneapolis, where Terri grew up. We felt right away that Atlanta was a great cosmopolitan city, but it took a while to feel at home. Atlanta is a very welcoming community to newcomers, more than the Twin Cities, which can be a little bit of a “if you’re not from here, you’re not from here” kind of place. Delta is like a big family, which helped, and the larger community has been warm in including Terri, in her role at JF&CS. There are some expressions, like “bless your heart,” which it took me a while to understand is not always a positive statement.
Jaffe: Describe Delta’s legal group.
Knopf: Our law department is relatively small for a company of Delta’s size and complexity. We have about 65 lawyers and paralegals, some focusing on corporate matters, divided into teams, each of which has an associate GC leader, who then reports to me. Others are in our closely related international, federal and state & local government affairs groups. Most of our attorneys are Atlanta-based, with some regulatory lawyers and government affairs folks in D.C. I report to the executive vice president & chief legal officer. This past year we added a rigorous training program for all of the members of the law department, the Delta Academy, which I lead.
Jaffe: Elaborate on your own talent.
Knopf: Being successful as an attorney starts with combining legal expertise with a deep understanding of the businesses you represent, then coupled with being highly responsive, collaborative and solution-oriented. Now as a Delta leader, everything I do starts with business perspectives with our legal objectives and risks in mind. I pride myself on being a negotiator, finding common ground to get deals done, treating all sides with respect, and generally prevailing on the points that really matter. A significant part of my time is now spent managing, leading and developing people, which I enjoy.
Jaffe: You came to Delta before COVID-19. What issues remain?
Knopf: COVID presented the airlines with a once-in-a-lifetime, unexpected set of challenges. The law department played a critical role in all aspects of Delta’s business to help ensure its survival and thriving again as we came out of the pandemic. During that first COVID year, I focused on liquidity initiatives, including securing CARES Act funding, so that Delta could manage through the crisis with stability and without layoffs. I spend time supporting our strategic alliance partners, including LATAM, Aeroméxico and Virgin Atlantic, who are working through restructuring. These partners were less fortunate than us, in that their governments didn’t lend much support.
Our front-line employees have soldiered through this pandemic with incredible bravery and spirit. They continued to fly before the vaccines, and they deal with people who don’t want to wear masks, or wear them improperly, or take them off when they eat, and don’t want to put them back on. It continues to be very challenging, especially with the uncertainties and new variants.
Jaffe: When you aren’t working …
Knopf: We raised four children. I didn’t have much time for hobbies. I was always either working or participating in the kids’ activities, plays and choirs. They’re now grown up and have great careers. We spend most of our family time, traveling — Italy, France and the UK. We joined The Temple here, which is a wonderful congregation.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Business & Professionals
- Jewish Family & Career Services
- The Temple
- Matthew Knopf
- Delta Air Lines
- Terri Bonoff
- corporate law
- Minnesota State Senator
- Twin Cities
- Delta Academy
- air travel
- CARES Act
- Dorsey & Whitney
- Minneapolis Stony Brook University
- University of Chicago Law School