Commentary

Kirby Takes Off From American, Lands At United

Scott Kirby had no sooner departed as president of American Airlines yesterday — with $13 million in severance pay in his pocket — than he arrived at United Airlines with the same, newly minted title and responsibility for operations, marketing, sales, alliances, network planning and revenue management.

Robert Isom, 52, who has been COO at American, will become its president. 

“American’s board of directors described the moves as part of an ongoing succession planning process. American chairman and CEO Doug Parker said other organizations ‘have been aggressively attempting to recruit from our ranks’ and that the decision to elevate Isom was a proactive step to create a longer-term leadership team for the carrier,” reports Conor Shine for the Dallas Morning News

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“In his new role as president, Isom will continue to oversee the carrier’s operations and add new responsibilities for revenue management, network planning, marketing and sales,” Shine continues.

Kirby, 49, will report to United CEO Oscar Munoz effective immediately, according to a news release.

The Wall Street Journal’s Susan Carey writes that “Kirby was told that he needed to ‘transition out’ of the Fort Worth, Texas, company, said people familiar with the matter, after the airline’s board decided it wouldn’t be able to retain its executive team in their current roles for the long term. Like other top executives of American, Mr. Kirby doesn’t have an employment contract or a noncompete agreement, and he was free to make the lateral move to United.”

Carey reports “Kirby is known in the industry for having strong views” and was “sought after on earnings calls because he spoke more openly than most executives.”

“Scott's appointment, along with other recent leadership announcements, is the culmination of the formation of my senior leadership team,” United’s Munoz said in a statement. “This is just the latest step in our mission to be an agile and innovative industry leader.” 

Munoz, who was “brought in as CEO last year to turn the airline around, has reached several new labor agreements with employee groups and improved the airline's on-time performance, but said earlier this year that United's financial performance still lags behind other major U.S. airlines,” reports Lauren Zumbach for the Chicago Tribune.

Munoz, who had been the president and COO of the CSX railway and a member of United’s board, suffered a heart attack six weeks after taking the reins at United in September 2015 and had a heart transplant in January of this year. He has been back on the job since early March.

“Kirby's appointment follows two management changes earlier this month, when Munoz made former Allegiant Travel president Andrew Levy United's new chief financial officer and former Boston Consulting Group partner Julia Haywood the airline's chief commercial officer,” Zumbach continues.

Kirby had served as the president of US Airways since Oct. 1, 2006, where Parker had been CEO and Isom was COO and EVP, according to their bios on Bloomberg. He had been president at American since December 2013.

“Kirby and Isom were both instrumental in the 2013 merger of American and US Airways and the subsequent integration of the airlines,” Bill Hethcock reports for the Dallas Business Journal

Parker and Kirby had worked together for 20 years, Tim Reed reports for The Street

“John Cahill, the airline's lead independent director, emphasized that Parker isn't going anywhere, suggesting a scenario in which Kirby, 49, was not going to move up at the carrier anytime soon, even though he was widely viewed as Parker's heir apparent. Parker is 54; Isom is 52.

“Scott has been a key member of our team for over 20 years,” American’s Parker said in a statement. “We would not be where we are today without his leadership. The more than 100,000 team members of American Airlines — most notably me — will be forever grateful to Scott.” 

American, meanwhile, launched a new advertising campaign yesterday that promotes civility among passengers. “‘Always upbeat, great fliers make the best of their situation no matter where they’re sitting,” one print ad says,” writes Martha C. White for the New York Times.

Sounds exactly like what Kirby is doing as he makes the move from Dallas to Chicago.

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