United Airlines To Replace Oscar Munoz As CEO

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Oscar Munoz will step aside from his role as United Airlines’ CEO next year to become Executive Chairman to the Board of Directors. He will be succeeded by a former President of American Airlines in May 2020.

United names J. Scott Kirby as new CEO. Photo: Simple Flying / Thomas Boon

Perfect time for a United changeover

United Airlines today (5th December 2019) announced a management shakeup, as Oscar Munoz steps down from his role as Chief Executive Officer after nearly four and a half years. The airline has named Mr J. Scott Kirby to become the new CEO whilst Munoz moves to a position as Executive Chairman on the Board of Directors. Though the news has been announced today, the transition will not materialize until the next Annual Meeting of Shareholders on 20th May 2020.

Munoz will step down in May 2020. Photo: United Airlines

In a press statement, United Airlines was incredibly vocal about the impact that Munoz’s term as CEO has had on the company. And Munoz himself said that the position had allowed him to achieve everything that he had intended. He said:

“When I joined United as CEO, I laid out ambitious goals to build a new spirit of United by regaining the trust of our employees and customers…United’s operational and financial performance isn’t just better – it’s better than ever…we have transformed United even faster than we expected and there’s an incredible sense of excitement about the future.”

And the future is something that Munoz has been looking forward to for a while now. Back in 2016, he hired J. Scott Kirby from American Airlines with the optimism that he might one day become CEO himself.

A demonstration of excellent leadership skills

United has said that Munoz and Kirby will continue to work closely together. In addition, Munoz stressed that the current stability and distinction of United as an airline makes for a good time to change leadership. Whilst that may be so, this doesn’t explain why Munoz has decided to make his ascension to Executive Chairman at this moment.

We contacted United for more information but it was not able to explain the decision. Instead, it told us that the arrival of this announcement six months prior to the changeover was an exemplary demonstration of the companies leadership skills. It said that the decision allows for a seamless customer and staff experience when the leadership transition comes into play.

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The Munoz legacy

Munoz certainly has achieved a lot since his appointment in 2015. With one of the biggest airlines in the world in an ever-changing and competitive market, who can blame him? There have been new aircraft orders, innovative environmental projects, and international network expansions. And that’s just this year! Munoz has also been the CEO responsible for creating better employee satisfaction and generating more revenue.

But then there’s been the not so good. Who can forget the disastrous PR blunder back in 2017 when a passenger was forcibly removed from United Express Flight 3411 after the airline had overbooked the service? Or what about the continuing saga with the delays to the Boeing 737 MAX launch? Admittedly, though, that one isn’t United’s fault. But the airline is right, United is in a much better place than it was when Munoz was appointed which leaves J. Scott Kirby facing a bright future.

Munoz leaves United in a good place and with capable hands. Photo: United Airlines

What can we expect from CEO Kirby?

Well, United has not released any further information about plans for when the new CEO steps in but there’s already some work in the pipeline which will undoubtedly call for his input. There’s Boeing’s 797/NMA in which United has previously expressed interest. But without a release date, no official conclusion has been reached for a deal. The airline is in need of replacing its aging 767 fleet which will most certainly happen within Kirby’s tenure. Will Kirby lead United to a 797/NMA order?

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Then, of course, there’s the return to service of the 737 MAX. The grounding extension is set to end in March, but who’s to say if that will happen for sure? If it doesn’t, then Kirby will be influential in coming up with a timeline for the aircraft rescheduling. If the 737 MAX is ready by then, there may still be some final details that he needs to preside over.

And then there’s the delivery of United’s pending aircraft to oversee.

But anything more at the moment would be speculation, though we know that Kirby is all for innovative thinking. He was the voice behind the provision of free WiFi on-board some of United’s services, for example. Since Kirby has already been President of United for over three years he’s likely well-versed in many of the airline’s operations.

President turns CEO: Who is J. Scott Kirby?

J. Scott Kirby is currently the President of United Airlines, hired in 2016 under Munoz. Prior to his appointment with United, Kirby was with American Airlines as President. He has a strong 30-year career within the aviation industry with a degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Are you excited about United’s new CEO? How do you expect United will fare under his leadership? Let us know in the comments below!

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