United Hires American’s No. 2 Executive in Succession-Plan Boost

  • Kirby jumps after 20 years of teaming with American CEO Parker
  • Move marks ‘culmination’ of executive changes, United CEO says

United Continental Holdings Inc. named Scott Kirby as president, hiring away American Airlines Group Inc.’s highest-ranking official after Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker.

Kirby’s appointment will take effect immediately, United said in a statement Monday. His responsibilities in the newly created role will range from operations to marketing and network planning, and he will report to CEO Oscar Munoz.

The change leaves American without the executive who has long overseen its scheduling, revenue management and fare strategy. Kirby, 49, has teamed with Parker, 54, since 1995. At United, a lack of succession planning drew criticism from investors last year after the surprise ouster of a former CEO. Munoz, 57, went on extended leave following a heart attack he suffered shortly after taking the top job in September.

“The fact that someone would recruit him and he would accept essentially a lateral move to a competitor is indicative of him being very marketable and willing to go on the prospect he would ultimately become CEO,” Bob Mann, president of consultant R.W. Mann & Co., said of Kirby.

‘Succession Planning’

American’s chief operating officer, Robert Isom, 52, will replace Kirby, American said in a statement in which the carrier referred to “ongoing succession planning.”

Kirby was an executive at America West when the carrier merged with US Airways in 2005 and when US Airways combined with American as the latter emerged from bankruptcy reorganization in December 2013.

At United, the lack of a succession plan rankled investors when former CEO Jeff Smisek stepped down almost a year ago amid an internal inquiry into the airline’s ties to the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Two activist hedge funds, Altimeter Capital Management and PAR Capital Management Inc., won seats on the airline’s board this year after mounting a proxy dispute.

Munoz, who had a heart transplant in January, has been reshaping the airline’s executive ranks since returning from his leave of absence.

“Scott’s appointment is the culmination of the formation of my leadership team,” Munoz said in a letter to employees. He said the hiring would enable him to “sharpen my own focus” on United’s overall strategy, innovation and financial performance.

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