Today marks the last day of the Oscar Munoz era at United. Tomorrow the baton is passed to Scott Kirby. We’ll have plenty to say about that, but want to focus today on a farewell note that Munoz just sent to employees ahead of his departure.
Oscar Munoz Says Goodbye to United Employees
Here’s Munoz’s farewell letter, in a note obtained by Live and Let’s Fly:
To my United family,
Wherever I go, in all my countless flights with the United family, I always try my best to be the final person to depart toward the gate area. It’s often my best chance to enjoy priceless moments with our team and crews – from the ticket counter to the break room, the ramp to the gate.
I get to witness the flawless teamwork in action, as you orchestrate countless moving pieces with precision, all to make the magic of our flights happen.
I always look for the touching wave of the jet bridge driver to the passengers and crew as he or she pulls away from the plane, signaling the start of a new journey.
But, for all of us who make those journeys possible, we know we never say goodbye. Not to each other. Not really.
It’s little wonder, then, that I’ve found it difficult in the past few months since I announced my intention to step down in May as CEO to find the right words to thank my United family – to adequately express to you all you’ve meant to me, and all that we’ve meant to one another.
Five months is not enough to sum up what all these five years have meant and all they’ve contained.
What is absolutely certain, however, is that what’s transpired in the past five months, the COVID-19 pandemic and everything related to it, cannot – and will never – make us forget what we’ve achieved over our five years together…or who we are.
For all those outside the United family, no words are enough to describe the privilege I feel to have counted myself part of this team. For all of us in the United family, no words are necessary.
We remember what we accomplished together. We came together when others doubted. We worked together in a spirit of renewed belief in one another.
Together, we put United where it was always meant to be, as a commanding airline, one that deserves and remains worthy of the energies and skills of the best group of professionals to which I have ever – and will ever – have the honor of belonging.
This is my last week as your CEO. It is not my last week as a member of your family.
On Wednesday, I will begin to work in a new role as Executive Chairman of United’s Board, but completely behind our new captain on deck, Scott Kirby, and our new President, Brett Hart. I know all of you join me in supporting Scott and Brett as we rally around their leadership during this crucial moment for our airline. We not only wish them and their families the very best. I know we will also give them our very best as professionals and teammates.
That’s what we owe to our customers who are counting on us to succeed. That’s what we owe to one another.
My role and title may be changing, but my commitment to United is not. As your Executive Chairman, I will still be very much in this fight. I look forward to leading our Board as we tackle the tough decisions ahead and devoting every ounce of energy and experience I possess to helping Scott, Brett and each one of you return United to where we need and deserve to be – better than ever and stronger for having weathered this storm.
Fortunately, we’ve assembled an all-star team of leaders across the airline, comprising simply the finest leadership team in the entire industry, bar none.
They’ve made United an immeasurably better airline, and they’ve made me a better, wiser leader.
Bringing this collection of world-class talent together and aligning them towards a common vision has been the work of several years, and it is a legacy I am incredibly proud to pass on.
I know these past months have been among the most wrenching of our lives, personally as well as professionally.
The uncertainty and fear, the anxiety over providing for families and keeping loved ones safe – all of it has taken a toll.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the faith and support you’ve provided to our leadership team and myself as we’ve advocated in Washington, fighting to protect our livelihood, well-being and the future of our business.
More than that, overwhelmingly, we also saw the public we serve keep faith in us, standing behind our industry, which is why we are able to keep flying at all.
This quality of faith – between leadership and employees and between our customers and our United family – simply did not exist in the same way when we started this journey together nearly five years ago.
That journey toward rebuilding our trust and sense of direction as an airline began with a personal story, one that I seldom talk about but would like to share with you now.
On a cold January day in Chicago, our executive team had come together for an off-site retreat. Our purpose was to finalize our turnaround strategy. After months of traveling the system and visiting with so many of our employees – listening and learning – our leadership team convened for a meeting that would chart United’s course.
From operations to finance, technology to human resources, each member of our executive team had mountains of data. It all added up to a singular and shared belief that, in the final analysis, we are in the “people business.” And that is where our turnaround journey had to begin, with you.
We made a seminal decision that the best and only way to win back the trust of our customers was to first win back the trust of our United team. It was a pivotal choice for United.
What my fellow executive team colleagues didn’t know, however, was that earlier that day I received a call from my heart transplant doctor. He had found a match for me. It happened to be my birthday. As the team came to a unanimous decision around the key priorities of our strategy at the end of the meeting, I thanked everyone and let them know I would be out for the rest of the day.
Knowing we had made the right decision, to invest in our employees, I felt confident that everything would turn out for the best in the long run.
Before adjourning the meeting, I said, “Thanks, everyone. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, but I’ll see you on the other side.”
Ever since, and more each day, you – my United family – have proven the rightness of the decision made together by our leadership team on Jan. 5, 2016. Rebuilding the trust of our team as the necessary first step in United’s turnaround journey set the foundation for all we’ve achieved together – operationally, financially and for our customers.
That good faith was hard won, as are all things rare and worthwhile.
As we respond to and recover from this historic challenge to our business, many things will likely need to change to meet the needs of the moment.
But, what will not change – what we can never afford to lose – is this bond of trust that we built.
Of all the assets we have to fight this battle, none is more powerful than the new spirit of United that we created together. It is what will see us through to the other side of this.
Five years ago, we set out to change United Airlines. In the end, United changed me, forever and for the better.
The generosity you’ve shown to me and my family is a blessing beyond counting. The gratitude I feel to each and every one of you is beyond measure.
Leading this company as CEO has been the honor and privilege of my professional life. Yet, today, the title I take the greatest pride in was simply counting myself as a member of your team.
Always United in Spirit,
One Fateful Day
So much of life is not about momentous fateful decisions, but about the mundane daily interactions of our lives with those around us. But those turning points do occur and it seems that day was January 5, 2016. Who would have thought that Munoz would turn around his life (with a new heart) and airline (with a new leadership direction) on the same day?
This post is long enough already, but I’ll share my own thoughts on Munoz’s tenure in a dedicated post. In the meantime, he entered United at a low point, leaves United at an all-new low point, but has many achievements to boast about over the last five years.