United Announces Acting CEO

Brett__Hart-mediumUnited Airlines has selected a new chief while the previously selected CEO is in the hospital. United CEO Jeff Smisek resigned amidst allegations of improprieties including keeping unprofitable flights to suit an executive at the NY/NJ Port Authority. Oscar Munoz, previously COO at CSX, was hired to replace Smisek, and had a strong start, communicating with United customers and employees. 

But Munoz suffered a heart attack just 41 after his appointment and has taken a medical leave. In the interim, the company announced Brett Hart, United's general counsel, as acting CEO. Hart joined United in 2010 from Sara Lee. 

In the press release posted on United's website, the company quoted Hart:

"Oscar's agenda is focused on customer service, teamwork and innovation and I, along with the executive team, will continue to move quickly to implement it. We believe strongly that we can continue to make steady progress on increasing shareholder value by working together to deliver a great product to our customers."

Although this sounds optimistic for Munoz's return, the press release ended this way: 

"The board of directors remains actively engaged in preparing for all potential outcomes regarding the company's leadership structure."

Strangely, a CNN Money article includes this reference to Hart's history at Sara Lee: 

"Hart was at Sara Lee when its CEO, Brenda Barnes, suffered a stroke and resigned in July 2010. Hart announced he was leaving for a position at United three months later."

Image source. 

Discussion Starters: 

  • What are United's considerations in addressing Munoz's leave and announcing an acting CEO?
  • Assess United's statement about the leadership change. Read between the lines: what do you take away from the announcement? 
  • Why would CNN Money include Hart's history at Sara Lee?