Delta Names Bastian CEO as Anderson Departs After Merger Success

  • Ascent of longtime No. 2 executive seen providing continuity
  • Departing CEO will step down in May, become executive chairman

Delta Air Lines Inc.’s maverick chief executive officer, Richard Anderson, will step down later this year to make way for his longtime second-in-command, Ed Bastian, to move into the top role.

Anderson leaves with a legacy of having carried out a 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines that suffered from few of the setbacks seen by United Continental Holdings Inc. He’ll give up the CEO job on May 2, the day he turns 61.

“I think he’ll be remembered for overseeing the most successful merger in the history of the airline industry,” Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay said.

Bastian’s ascension marks an accelerated timetable for a changing of the guard that had been expected during the next few years, according to Joe DeNardi, a Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst. Bastian, 58, currently serves as Delta’s president and is a former chief financial officer.

“Ed has always been seen as next in line, it was just a matter of when,” DeNardi said. “I view it as a slight negative just because of how good Richard is. But if anybody is going to take over, you’d want it to be Ed.”

Anderson joined Delta in 2007 and made it into the most-profitable major U.S. airline. Following the Northwest deal, he focused relentlessly on operations. The Atlanta-based company has routinely ranked No. 1 among large carriers in on-time arrival and cancellation rates. The departing CEO was also known for taking risks such as buying an oil refinery in Pennsylvania.

Texas Fishing

Anderson will become executive chairman after stepping down as CEO. In a memo to employees, he said he planned to spend more time with his wife, Sue, and go fishing near where he was raised in Texas.

“I have no particular plans other than to spend a lot of time with Sue, and finally learn to wade fish in Galveston Bay,” he said.

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