Ed Bastian to Succeed Richard Anderson as Chief Executive Officer of Delta Air Lines

ichard H. Anderson has chosen to retire as chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines, Incorporated effective as of Monday, May 2, 2016 — his 61st birthday — and will be elevated to the position of executive chairman of the board of directors of the airline, according to this official announcement which was released earlier today; and “this succession plan has been several years in the making and will keep Delta on top of the global industry,” said Dan Carp, who is the current non-executive chairman of the board but will step down and remain on the board.

Ed Bastian to Succeed Richard Anderson as Chief Executive Officer

Ed Bastian — who is the current president of Delta Air Lines — will be appointed chief executive officer of the airline effective as of Monday, May 2, 2016. Ed joined Delta Air Lines in 1998 as its vice president of finance and controller; and was promoted to the position of senior vice president in 2000. He left Delta Air Lines in early 2005 to become the senior vice president and chief financial officer of Acuity Brands; but he returned to Delta Air Lines in July of 2005.

The commercial aviation career of Richard Anderson began in 1987 at Continental Airlines before he was employed at Northwest Airlines for 14 years — during which he progressed to its chief executive officer from 2001 to 2004. Richard Anderson joined as a member of the board of directors of Delta Air Lines in April of 2007 — the month when Delta Air Lines emerged from bankruptcy protection — and in September of 2007, he joined Delta Air Lines from United Health Group to become its chief executive officer, succeeding Gerald Grinstein.

Other Executive Appointments

Glen Hauenstein — who is the current executive vice president of the airline — will be appointed its president effective as of Monday, May 2, 2016; and Frank Blake — a current director at Delta Air Lines — will be appointed lead director of the board of directors of the airline on the same day. Meanwhile, Gil West is promoted immediately to senior executive vice president and chief operating officer. Also effective immediately, Steve Sear is appointed as the president of international and executive vice president of global sales, leading the Atlantic, Asia-Pacific and Latin America organizations in addition to global sales.

Reaction From Frequent Fliers

FlyerTalk member GRALISTAIR opined, “Wow – I thought Richard Anderson has been a good CEO.”

While some FlyerTalk members agreed, FlyerTalk member readywhenyouare countered with this comment: “Let’s see, he lied and said MEM and CVG would not be cut. He put thousands out of work. He has alienated almost every Skyteam and codeshare partner. He cries to the DOT anytime he doesn’t get his way. He intimated that the ME3 were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Yells about Boeing benefiting from ExIm but then turns around orders Airbus aircraft that are subsidized by EU taxpayers. Need I go on?”

Additional reactions from FlyerTalk members are posted in this discussion.

Summary

Steven Klamon Brian Cohen and Richard Anderson

From left to right: Steven Klamon, Brian Cohen and Richard Anderson at the auditorium of the training center at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines just prior to Richard speaking to approximately 200 frequent fliers of Delta Air Lines in attendance on the first of four days of the 2010 Delta Air Lines FlyerTalk Event. Photograph courtesy of Greg Johnston.

I have met both Richard Anderson and Ed Bastian multiple times over the years. I have personally witnessed Richard Anderson practicing the leadership capability of working from the heart and establishing personal connections. He has responded to correspondence with handwritten notes personally signed by him. He has also answered every single e-mail message I have sent to him — not that I have a habit of bombarding him with e-mail messages, of course. How do I know they are from him? Because I have also corresponded with his executive staff, whom I know by first names as well; and if they respond to me on behalf of him, they sign the responses that way to ensure that that is clear.

He has never been condescending to me at any time we have ever spoken in person; in fact, he can be rather refreshingly modest. With only one exception — and I have to believe that that exception must have been warranted; after all, he is the chief executive office of the most profitable commercial airline in the world as well as the chair of the Metro Atlanta Chamber for 2014 — whenever he said to me that he will do something, he has always kept his word with me.

Here are two examples: at the luncheon to thank all of the employees of Delta Air Lines for the success of the first Delta Air Lines FlyerTalk Event back in June of 2009, Richard promised a larger budget for the second Delta Air Lines FlyerTalk Event back in October of 2010 — there was even a special weblog for that event hosted right here at BoardingArea, but it does not exist anymore — and boy, did he ever come through on that promise. Richard even attended the executive engagement session to speak to and interact with frequent fliers of Delta Air Lines; and not just for a couple of minutes — probably more like at least 30 minutes…

…and for the luncheon on the afternoon of March 14, 2011 to thank all of the employees of Delta Air Lines for the incredible success of that second event, Richard made sure to stop by for a few minutes to say a few words as he promised — and he apologized to me for not staying longer, but he had to deal with the emergency situation pertaining to Japan, which had just experienced a major earthquake. He could have simply canceled — and it would have absolutely been understandable, given the unusual and exceptional circumstances — but Richard Anderson keeps his promises.

Despite some questionable gaffes — such as when he said “And it’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula” during a live televised interview — and despite a number of significant changes which adversely affected members of the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program, Richard Anderson has served Delta Air Lines well as a strong leader, as he led the airline towards enjoying consecutive quarters of record profits in recent years. He retires from his position as chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines arguably at the apex of his career.

With his years of experience, Ed Bastian seems like a fine choice to take over as chief executive officer of the airline. Expect the profitability to continue for the time being; but do not expect the decimation of the benefits once enjoyed by members of the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program to be reversed anytime soon — if at all — as that occurred under the leadership of Glen Hauenstein.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

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