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The Right Guy To Pilot Delta?

Posted by: Jena McGregor on August 21, 2007

Delta Airlines today announced that board member Richard Anderson would succeed CEO Gerald Grinstein, who will retire (again). Anderson, the former CEO of Northwest Airlines and until today an executive vice president at United Healthcare, was named to Delta’s board in March when the company exited from bankruptcy. CFO Ed Bastian, who was one of two insiders Grinstein supported to succeed him, will become president. Delta’s press release announcing the change says nothing about COO Jim Whitehurst, until today the other horse in the succession race.

If Whitehurst leaves—and that’s what often happens when an executive is noticeably absent from an announcement like this—he will surely be missed. Analysts have said they’d consider it a loss. Whitehurst was seen as bringing, wrote my colleagues Brian Grow and Dean Foust back in December, “a certain feistiness that never existed at the airline before.”

And that’s exactly what Delta needs these days: Feistiness, spunk, and an innovative approach to running an airline that’s still sorely missing among the legacy carriers today. If customer service really is how the airline hopes to distinguish itself—the company referenced it at least five times in today’s press release—it’s still got a lot way to go, as I’ve chronicled before. And while I don’t know Anderson, something tells me a CEO who ran Northwest Airlines (which has long had one of the worst customer service reputations in the industry) may not be the guy to do it.



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