Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly to Phase Down in February

Gary Kelly,

who has served as chief government of

Southwest Airlines Co.

LUV -.37%

for virtually 17 decades, will stage down in February, handing the reins to a organization veteran as the provider plots its route out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bob Jordan, 60 many years previous, a longtime Southwest government who is the airline’s executive vice president of company products and services, will just take Mr. Kelly’s put as CEO, the firm explained. Mr. Kelly, 66, will develop into government chairman and options to provide in that position by means of at the very least 2026 at the discretion of the company’s board.

In contrast to big rivals, Southwest has prevented bankruptcies and layoffs. But Covid-19 halted the airline’s 47-12 months streak of yearly income. Like opponents, Southwest took on billions of pounds of additional credit card debt to survive—something Mr. Jordan will have to deal with.

Incoming CEO Bob Jordan has been with Southwest given that 1988.


Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Soon after a just about $3.1 billion loss in 2020, Southwest was the initial U.S. provider to return to profitability in the initial quarter of this yr, because of to an influx of federal government support. It has embarked on an intense development trajectory, with 18 new places declared since early 2020.

“Bob inherits a strong approach and great momentum to continue the airline’s recovery as the COVID pandemic wanes,” William Cunningham, Southwest’s guide director, claimed in a statement.

Incoming CEO Mr. Jordan has been with the enterprise because 1988. Across a assortment of roles, he oversaw the AirTran Holdings Inc. acquisition, the progress of a new e-commerce platform for Southwest’s site and the company’s Speedy Rewards loyalty software, the airline claimed.

Mr. Jordan reported he options to continue on pursuing Southwest’s progress training course, with new cities in its network and new planes on order.

“A large amount of this is about executing the options that we by now have in place,” Mr. Jordan stated in an interview.

Two other Southwest executives—President

Tom Nealon

and Chief Running Officer

Mike Van de Ven

—were also contenders, though the board was unanimous in its conclusion, Mr. Kelly mentioned. Messrs. Van de Ven and Nealon program to keep on being at the business, Mr. Kelly stated.

“Where we together have the business is incredibly very well positioned for the recent task at hand,” Mr. Kelly claimed. “We even now are a small cost provider with very low fares and in an natural environment the place it’s all about individuals and leisure vacation.”

Southwest shares fell .6% in afternoon trading.

Whilst Mr. Kelly has been a additional minimal-critical existence as opposed with Herb Kelleher, Southwest’s chain using tobacco, Wild Turkey drinking co-founder, he presided more than a interval of transformative growth, about doubling the range of airports Southwest flies to and pushing into global markets. Underneath Mr. Kelly, Southwest solidified its situation as the greatest carrier of U.S. travellers when preserving many of the airline’s special characteristics, such as totally free checked baggage and no change service fees.

Southwest started traveling 50 many years back and quickly emerged as a risk to founded carriers with its rock-bottom fares and shrewd use of secondary airports. When Mr. Kelly took the helm in 2004, the airline was ageing out of its standing as a disruptive upstart. It faced competitive strain from a new crop of discount airlines offering even much less expensive, no-frills fares, and shrinking number of untapped markets to proceed its swift pace of expansion.

Mr. Kelly quickly created bold moves that deviated from Southwest’s unique formula, major Southwest’s charge into far more crowded and aggressive airports which include Denver Worldwide Airport and LaGuardia. He correctly battled to overturn an arcane law that restricted extended-haul flights from Dallas’s Enjoy Area Airport, the place Southwest dominates services. And he spearheaded a merger with AirTran that brought Southwest into international marketplaces.

In 2018, Southwest experienced its to start with passenger fatality when an motor protect broke off and blasted out a window on a New York-to-Dallas flight. A passenger was partly sucked out and died.

Just after an unprecedented fall in air journey because of to the coronavirus, passenger airways are remaining compelled to make long-expression, make-or-split decisions at a time of great uncertainty and minimal cash stream. So how are they scheduling to survive? WSJ finds out. Composite: George Downs/The Wall Road Journal

The virtually two-year grounding of the


737 MAX stymied some of the airline’s growth plans in 2019 and brought Southwest into conflict with its sole plane supplier. Mr. Kelly produced his displeasure with Boeing very clear and mentioned the airline experienced an obligation to seem at other aircraft forms. This year the airline doubled down on the MAX with a massive buy, hewing to the airline’s longtime desire of working just one particular form of aircraft.

Some senior executives at other carriers also have departed amid the pandemic-pushed upheaval, and Mr. Kelly’s transfer could signal the starting of a modifying-of-the guard for other longtime executives in the industry. He stated the time felt correct to phase back, with the airline on firmer footing.

“We require to commence performing on building the up coming era of CEO candidates,” Mr. Kelly reported. Transitioning the CEO job to Mr. Jordan will shift that method forward, he reported.

Publish to Alison Sider at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Organization, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8