Oscar Munoz Moves to New Role as Executive Chairman of United Airlines

By Kurt Stolz on 19 May 2020
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United CEO Oscar Munoz at the Polaris launch

Oscar Munoz will become United Airlines’ executive chairman on Wednesday, passing the baton of CEO to the airline’s president, Scott Kirby.

The airline announced Munoz’ plans last December while simultaneously announcing Kirby’s promotion to CEO.   The current chairman of the board, Jane Garvey, will step down from that position on Wednesday as well.

The role of executive chairman is separate from that of CEO and distinct from a non-executive chairman. The executive chairman typically wields influence over company operations but is not responsible for day-to-day operations.

Munoz’ tenure at United started with some controversy: his predecessor Jeff Smisek and two other executives were forced out under a black cloud in September 2015 after being investigated for doing favors for a state official who had jurisdiction over Newark Liberty International Airport, where United operates a major hub.  Five weeks after assuming the CEO position, he suffered a heart attack and underwent a heart transplant a few months later. Brett Hart, who served as interim CEO during Munoz’ illness, will become the airline’s president on Wednesday.

In April 2017, Munoz became the public face of the airline when a passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight. The incident became a public relations debacle and it resulted in changes in how airlines address overbooked flights.

In a company-wide memorandum to employees, Munoz expressed his thoughts on the time since he joined United as CEO.

“Five years ago, we set out to change United Airlines. In the end, United changed me, forever and for the better,” he said.

When flying, he noted, “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.”

“Five months is not enough to sum up what all these five years have meant and all they’ve contained,” he said.

“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.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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