United Names New Acting CEO

In early September Jeff Smisek stepped down as United CEO, following the scandal involving the Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Smisek was replaced by Oscar Munoz, who seems like a good guy who genuinely wants to change United for the better. Unfortunately Munoz suffered a heart attack about a month into his tenure, and the airline has understandably been tight-lipped about his condition (which is fair enough, as he and his family deserve some privacy during this time).

Today United’s board of directors decided on whether to appoint a replacement CEO, given that it’s uncertain when Munoz will be able to return to work.

Well, that decision has now been made, and United has appointed Brett J Hart as “acting CEO” of United Airlines. Via the press release:

United Continental Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: UAL) today announced that its president and CEO, Oscar Munoz, is on medical leave following a heart attack he suffered on Oct. 15, 2015. At this time, it is too soon to know the course of treatment and timing of recovery. The UAL board of directors has named Brett J. Hart, currently United’s executive vice president and general counsel, as acting CEO. This appointment is effective immediately.

In addition to serving as United’s general counsel, Hart has been responsible for government and regulatory affairs, corporate real estate, customer experience, corporate security, community affairs, contact centers and food services. Prior to joining United in 2010, Hart served as executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Sara Lee, partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and special assistant to the general counsel at the U.S. Department of Treasury. Hart has a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and English from the University of Michigan and a juris doctorate degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

Hart will work closely with Henry L. Meyer III, non-executive chairman of the board, and United’s experienced executive team to run the company in Munoz’s absence.

“Brett has taken on increasing responsibility beyond general counsel over the last few years in the operations and customer facing areas of the company. I am confident in his ability to continue to implement the company’s strategy and Oscar’s mission of bringing United’s people together around the shared purpose of becoming the best airline for our customers and employees,” said Meyer.

“Oscar’s agenda is focused on customer service, teamwork and innovation and I, along with the executive team, will continue to move quickly to implement it,” said Hart. “We believe strongly that we can continue to make steady progress on increasing shareholder value by working together to deliver a great product to our customers.”

The board of directors remains actively engaged in preparing for all potential outcomes regarding the company’s leadership structure.

First of all, good luck to Oscar Munoz for his recovery, and best of luck to Brett Hart for his new role. It’ll be interesting to see whether Hart will just take on the role as interim CEO, or if it’s likely to be a permanent placement.

What do you think of the choice of Hart as CEO, and do you think it’ll be permanent or just as Munoz recovers?

Comments

  1. I’m not an insensitive person, though, while sympathetic to a right to privacy, as a CEO whose health status could have a direct relationship to not only the functioning but the stock price of a public company, I think UAL has a legal obligation to be transparent in informing the public and its shareholders on Oscar Munoz’ condition and prospects for returning to his job.

  2. UAL aparently learned absolutely nothing by having a lawyer run it in to the ground (smisek) so why not have a “temporary” guy who is a lawyer continue the dismemberment of a once great brand. Best wishes to Oscar. I hope he makes it back to help all the pissed off United employees. Us 1K flyers have moved on already.

  3. I’ll echo what @JNorman just stated. Hopefully this Hart guy is just temporary as I think he is a very bad choice. Munoz had huge issues to address. Munoz was probably better able to tackle labor problems as he was a railroad guy and all the railroads are 100% organized. Hart is just another empty suit with a law degree. I feel sorry for United and its employees and customers. I just don’t think this Hart guy is going to work out.

  4. I agree with Stuart that UA owes it’s shareholders more on his condition once they know it.

    But, good God! What a heartless press release. Not even a throwaway line about “We hope he gets better soon” or “We’re thinking of him in his time of recover”! Sheesh!

  5. The last CEO before Oscar was also an attorney; not a wise move on UA’s part…

    Get well soon, Oscar.

  6. We’re not even sure that this new acting CEO won’t also have a coronary after he fully takes in the magnitude of the mess that Smisek made of the airline that the new leadership has to clean up… 😉

  7. It’s incredible, I really agree with almost all of the comments above. The company really got all Jeffed up, the ex-cons are up in arms, the old UAer’s are pissed off, and their best customers left, me too.

    My assessment; the company really lost its way under Jeff and the employees were all busy pointing the finger at each other meanwhile senior management was focused on returning shareholder value at the expense of customer experience, customer service, and their best flyers.

    PT Barnum said it, “there’s a sucker born every minute” and United’s business model is dependent on getting as many as those people as possible to fill their cabins. That was the old Continental model for the back of the bus, but at least Continental treated their best flyers pretty well.

    It’s shocking to see Munsz go out with a coronary event, Fortune 100 CEOs have excellent health plans that catch this kind of slowly developing pathology. Maybe it was the realization of criminal liability and jail time that created the stressful environment for all the senior management who touched the third rail over at the port authority. I wish this guy a good recovery but it looks like he’s out for the rest of the game this year and isn’t coming back for the next season

  8. United need to be far more transparent about what’s going on. If Munoz wants privacy he can’t be a CEO of a listed company. He’s made certain promises that investors have made decisions on and they now need to know if he’s going to be at the helm to deliver them.

    Not sure Harts CV fills you with confidence that he is going to do a good job running a major Airline so it’s important to know if this really is a temporary thing for a month or if it’s longer term and he’s going to have to make strategic decisions.

  9. I woke up to read that headline about Brett and thought “whaaaat?” I went to law school with Brett. Nice, smart guy, but clearly not a long-term airline CEO. This has to be a temporary, placeholder arrangement — perhaps because he’s familiar with this kind of turmoil, as when the Sara Lee CEO had a stroke during Brett’s tenure there. As for all the folks who want to bash lawyer CEOs (and much of the criticism is warranted — most lawyers can’t manage their own law firms, much less public companies), consider that Richard Anderson of Delta is a lawyer. He went to a law school ranked 149 — out of 149 — by US News He’s the bane of the frequent flier community, but he runs a better airline on a day-to-day basis than Jeffy ever did.

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