MUNOZ STEPS DOWN
By Todd Horwitz
United CEO to Step Down
Oscar Munoz, who helped to steady United Airlines after a troubled 2010 merger, but not without the occasional public relations crisis, will step down next year as the airline’s chief executive. In May, J. Scott Kirby, the airline’s president and a veteran of the industry, will succeed Mr. Munoz, who will move on to the position of executive chairman of the airline’s board for a one-year term.
Analysts said they were unsurprised by the leadership change, which had been predicted since Mr. Kirby was hired in 2016, shortly after Mr. Munoz underwent a heart transplant. Mr. Munoz, a first-generation college student from an immigrant family, had also been expected to assume the role of chairman several years ago, but the promotion was scuttled in 2017 after the airline stumbled in responding to public outrage when security officers dragged a passenger off one of its planes in Chicago.
“While the timing of this transition was always a key topic, this has been largely expected by investors ever since Oscar Munoz hired Scott Kirby in 2016,” Andrew Didora, an airline analyst with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, wrote in a research note. Mr. Didora added that he did not anticipate a change to the airline’s strategy.
“When I joined United as CEO, I laid out ambitious goals to build a new spirit of United by regaining the trust of our employees and customers — and I’m proud of how far we’ve come,” Munoz said. “With United in a stronger position than ever, now is the right time to begin the process of passing the baton to a new leader.”
Shares of United were slightly higher in premarket trading on the news. The stock has risen 54% during Munoz’s more-than four years on the job. It’s been a generally good time for airline stocks in an age of consolidation of the US industry, and a strong economy lifting travel demand and fares.
Todd “Bubba” Horwitz