What is United telling employees about the leadership shakeup that will pivot Scott Kirby to the position of CEO next May?
Earlier today I wrote about the upcoming leadership change at United. In 2020, Oscar Munoz will step down as CEO and become Executive Chairman. Scott Kirby, United’s current President, will assume the CEO role.
United shared a video with employees earlier today in which Munoz and Kirby share about the upcoming leadership change. Even though it was intended for employees, United posted the video online.
I took the liberty of putting together a transcript of the chat, which is quite illuminating at certain points:
Munoz: When I started as CEO, we laid out a pledge to all of you about the journey we would be on. And yeah, it was really simple, you know, after a careful amount of listening, to a lot of our folks, our first step was we needed to regain the trust of our employees. I always felt so, so strongly about that because I got a chance to talk with you, and I could feel the pride and the professionalism and the desire to get better. And so, I think one of the amazing things is the time it’s taken us to get to this point has been relatively short, and that’s all, it’s all a credit to the great work that you’ve helped us do.
And one of the many roles of a CEO – it’s an important one – is how to develop the leadership around you, and importantly how over time you work the succession planning process. And what we’re announcing today is that I will transition to Executive Chairman of the Board in May of 2020 following our Annual Meeting, and I’m so happy and glad to announce that Scott Kirby will become your new CEO, our new CEO.
Kirby: Not to be too corny, but I wanted to start and thank you. Thank you first for taking a chance on me three and a half years ago but more than that, for mentorship and friendship. I will be a much better executive today, will be a much better CEO, and a better person, for what I’ve learned from you, and following in the footsteps of an incredible leader.
I’m honored to succeed Oscar in the role as CEO in May of next year, and to continue to build on the partnership that he and I have developed today, and the teamwork that is happening here at United. And as we look forward, in the next few years, we’ll continue to the growth that’s been great, getting the airline back to growing again. It’s been good for our employees, for our customers and our shareholders.
We have an incredibly strong position and an incredibly bright future ahead, and personally I’m excited to spend even more time out with all of you, listening to you, sharing your enthusiasm for the future, and together building the best airline in the history of aviation.
Munoz: This is meant to be a very seamless transition. Until May 2020, Scott and I will continue in our same roles, doing the thing that you’ve seen us do before, specifically from my perspective on our customer culture and importantly, for you, our employees.
Kirby: I love the fact that almost every time I get feedback from employees, 99.9% of the time, it is something about “how do we make this airline better for our customers?”
And that is an incredible amount of energy, innovation and creativity, and that’s the foundation that a great airline is built on.
Munoz: You know, one of the early tenets that we had in our company was regaining the trust of you, our employees, and as I think of this transition and the period ahead of us, there is no one I trust more than Scott to continue that legacy.
Kirby: Thank you.
The press release about the leadership change contains different statements from both men.
Munoz, focuses on the culture:
“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 – and I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Along with the successful implementation of the plan our team laid out in January 2018, United’s operational and financial performance isn’t just better – it’s better than ever. By instilling a culture of ‘proof not promise,’ we have transformed United even faster than we expected and there’s an incredible sense of excitement about the future.”
So does Kirby, underscoring the importance of customer service:
“I am honored to be named the next CEO of United and to succeed Oscar, whose leadership has been truly transformational for United Airlines. I look forward to working with Oscar, the Board, our established leadership team and every United employee as we drive forward our proven strategy and focus on being the airline customers choose to fly and return to time and again.”
The great question: is this just lip service? Or has Kirby finally seen that great customer service drives profit as well and that in order to offer great service you must be operationally efficient (United has already accomplished that) and offer a competitive onboard product?
It’s interesting that in the video above, Kirby says, “I’m excited to spend even more time out with all of you, listening to you, sharing your enthusiasm for the future.” What does it mean to listen? In one ear and out the other?
Time will tell.