As United Airlines prepares to ramp up its growth, CEO Scott Kirby has made a number of leadership changes he hopes will help the airline navigate through the next few years.
2022 Leadership Shakeup At United Airlines
Overall, United did better than its peers in managing the pandemic. It saw the warning signs early, acted swiftly to massively reduce costs, and now emerges strong. Employees are much happier than at American or Delta and United wisely chose not to retire aircraft during the pandemic, which has hurt the growth prospects of those who acted too prematurely in retiring entire aircraft types. Furthermore, United’s operational performance has been stable this summer.
United has laid out an ambitious growth plan, which it hopes to accomplish though 500 new aircraft and a retrofit of the entire narrowbody fleet to include screens behind each seat, larger overhead bins, and other customer-friendly features.
Growth alone is not enough, though. United must improve its operational performance, regardless of its stronger performance relative to peers. Its employees must provide excellent customer service all day, every day. The soft product quality must not be neglected.
To promote these goals, Kirby has announced the following leadership changes:
- Toby Enqvist – Chief Operations Officer
- Jon Roitman is retiring, but will remain on the Board and perform ad hoc assignments
- Linda Jojo – Chief Customer Officer
- Greg Hart – Tech Ops + United Next
- Andrew Nocella – Chief Commercial Officer
- Nocella will retain his CCO title, but take over not just the hard product (seat, IFE, overhead bins) but the soft product (meals, bedding, amenity kits, United Club menus)
- Ankit Gupta – Senior Vice President and Chief Air Operations Officer
- Patrick Quayle – Senior Vice President of Global Network Planning and Alliances
- Quayle currently manages United’s international route network but will take over the domestic portfolio from Gupta, managing both
- Jason Birnbaum – Chief Information Officer
- Birbnaum takes over for Jojo, the new COO
Of note, Nocella and Quayle now hold immense power in shaping the United experience for customers. Nocella will have direct influence over the totality of the onboard product and airport experience while Quayle, who has shown artful nimbleness in managing United’s international route network, will now be responsible for the entire network.
Kirby posted the letter on LinkedIn. Here it is in full:
As you know, United managed the pandemic better than our competitors and we all worked together as a team not only in helping our airline survive, but also putting us in a position to thrive on the other side. But now, we are entering a new phase of growth at United – United Next – that requires a new focus on building the infrastructure to support what will be the largest growth by far that any airline has ever attempted in the history of aviation.
Over the last two years, I’m particularly proud of the cultural changes we made to focus on the customer. Yes, I receive and read emails each morning about operational issues. But, even in these challenging times, I also receive daily notes about a smiling flight attendant who helped someone in need, a pilot who left the flight deck to thank customers for flying United, or a gate agent that went above-and-beyond to help a customer in distress.
It’s wonderful to see and we couldn’t have made that cultural pivot without the efforts of our COO, Jon Roitman. He’s a deeply caring ‘people person’ and that applies to both customers and employees.
But as we exit the COVID crisis and move to a new phase of growth with United Next, we need to continue that wonderful customer focus but also build the infrastructure to support our massive growth. And so, we are announcing some important management changes that will strengthen our operation, take our customer focus to new heights, and accelerate our journey towards becoming the biggest and best airline in the history of aviation.
Brett and I have asked Toby Enqvist to take on the role of Chief Operations Officer, reporting to Brett. Most recently, he has led the charge in changing the way people feel about flying United as our Chief Customer Officer. Over the last two decades, he has worked all across our operation in a variety of leadership roles and has earned a reputation as a tireless advocate for our customers. The combination of his world-class talent and commitment to excellence make him exactly the right leader for this job at this critical moment for United – he feels more deeply, genuinely, and passionately for the customer than any airline executive I’ve ever known in my entire career.
I have also asked Linda Jojo to become our new Chief Customer Officer – she will continue reporting to me. In her previous role, Linda built and led the technology team responsible for enabling so many of the customer innovations we have pioneered in the last several years. The enthusiasm she brings to this work makes her a natural for this role. Linda has been with United long enough to know all the challenges and the ins and outs of running our complex operation – but not so long that she can’t look at things, and say, “I think there’s a better way to do this.” To me, that’s an exciting combination of skills and ones that will be critical to build industry-leading tools that make customer travel – and each of your jobs – easier. Linda will retain the technology team and add oversight of our contact centers and our customer solutions and innovation team to her new role.
There are a few additional moves I also wanted to share that are associated with Toby and Linda taking on these new responsibilities:
- I have asked Greg Hart to manage our Tech Ops organization – in addition to his United Next responsibilities – with a focus on improving our maintenance performance. The team will eventually transition to Toby in his new role. Tech Ops is perhaps the most difficult and technical discipline at an airline and Greg has a lot of experience running it and running it well.
- Andrew Nocella is the best Chief Commercial Officer of any airline anywhere in the world. He has literally been designing and thinking about airline route maps since he was 12 years old, but he also is obsessive about the hard product we offer our customers (you can thank him and his team for the great United Next interiors). He continues to be an excellent steward of the overall look and feel of our airline and as a result, I am adding inflight and club menu and product design to his portfolio as we move all the hard and soft product design elements into a single area under Andrew’s leadership.
- Rebuilding our airline in the post-COVID world has highlighted the need for our network and operational leaders to be nimble and completely integrated. So, to support Toby, I’ve asked Ankit Gupta to move into the operation and take on the role of Senior Vice President and Chief Air Operations Officer. He will take oversight of our Flight Ops, Inflight and NOC teams as well as and the responsibility of coordinating with our commercial team to better align our operation with network planning. Ankit has taken on roles of increasing responsibility in his time at United and has handled each transition seamlessly – I look forward to him taking on this next challenge and adding value right away.
- Patrick Quayle, another key leader on our United team, will now serve as Senior Vice President of Global Network Planning and Alliances, and add oversight of our domestic network to his portfolio. Patrick has elevated our network strategy and I am confident will continue to take our airline to new and unexpected places – literally and figuratively. He will continue to report to Andrew.
- Jason Birnbaum will now become our Chief Information Officer and will continue to report to Linda. Jason has driven a culture of innovation and was instrumental in changing the way technology is deployed across our airline. He will now take on more day-to-day leadership of our digital technology team.
Finally, I want to thank Jon Roitman for his 25 years of service to the airline. He is one of the best and most genuine people leaders I’ve ever known – a character trait that became more important than ever in these challenging times. Our customer-focused pivot is Jon’s legacy and will be with us forever.
Jon has agreed to remain on board as an advisor to Brett and me on a range of issues, including addressing the congestion issues at EWR.
In the past few years, we have built a culture at United based on leadership and doing the right thing – an airline where good leads the way. I am confident that these changes will provide our frontline teams with the support and direction they need to succeed in this unprecedented operational environment and as we execute on our United Next strategy in the months and years ahead.
For the avoidance of doubt, Roitman steps down on good terms.
United Airlines is sticking with its core leadership team, but shuffling responsibilities as Roitman steps away. Kirby sees the next few months as highly instrumental in pivoting from a restoration of pre-pandemic capacity to a whole new level of growth. The success of that growth will hinge on operational excellent, which Kirby hopes his reconstructed team will be effective in promoting.
image: United Airlines