“The board is adamant, as am I, that we don’t have an heir apparent,” Kelly told reporters on a conference call, adding, “So no, we’re not appointing a CEO successor … I’m looking forward of course to personally serving Southwest for many years to come.” But Kelly noted he will soon turn 62 and “succession planning is a serious duty for the CEO and the board.”
By naming Tom Nealon president and giving COO Mike Van de Ven more responsibility, Southwest is developing potential CEO talent, Kelly explained.
“It’s sort of an office of the CEO, if you will, between me and Mike and Tom,” he said of the new management structure. “So they’ll be spending more time and effort in broader areas beyond I’d say just the operations … The only way to adequately prepare for succession is to give people opportunity, so this is a great opportunity for Tom to grow. It’s a great opportunity for Mike to grow.”
Kelly has been Southwest’s CEO since 2004, and since 2008 also held the title of president. But the time had come to rethink Southwest’s management structure, he said.
“We want to pick up the pace of our ability to adapt to changing conditions, and then pick up the pace of our ability to address issues,” Kelly said. “I’m responsible for everything that happens at Southwest Airlines. And we’ve grown since I’ve been CEO from about 35,000 employees to almost 20,000 more than that. Here in 2017, we’ll be close to 55,000 employees. We’ve got one of the largest fleets in the world.
So it is impossible for the CEO in a large organization like that to drill as deep as one would like on every issue that one deems to be important. And that is the beauty of having two senior executives like this that have the experience and have the ability to help the CEO drive the agenda.”
(Aaron Karp - ATWOnline News)