Southwest Airlines Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary C. Kelly today announced changes to the Company’s executive Leadership ranks with Thomas M. Nealon named as President and Michael G. Van de Ven named as the airline’s Chief Operating Officer. These changes are effective immediately.
In his role as President, Nealon, 55, will report to Kelly and have responsibility for the Commercial, Finance, Technology, Corporate Delivery, and Corporate Strategy departments. Commercial and Finance functions will transition to Nealon later this year.
Nealon re-joined Southwest a year ago as Executive Vice President Strategy & Innovation. He had previously been a member of Southwest’s Board of Directors from 2010-2015 and also served as Southwest’s Chief Information Officer from 2002-2006. Nealon began his career in 1983 and in addition to Southwest has worked in a variety of roles for Frito-Lay, The Feld Group and JCPenney. Throughout his career, Nealon has held a wide range of executive roles, including, technology, e-commerce, strategy, digital ventures, and innovation.
He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Fossil Group.
As Chief Operating Officer, Van de Ven, 55, also will report to Kelly and expand his operational responsibilities, by adding Customer Support & Services, Hospitality, and the Company’s President’s Council. Van de Ven’s current responsibilities for Ground Operations, Air Operations (Inflight, Flight Operations, and Network Operations Control), Technical Operations, Safety & Security, Labor Relations, and Operational Strategy & Performance will continue.
Van de Ven is a 23-year veteran of Southwest and has served in various leadership positions in Internal Audit, Finance, and, for the last 11 years, Operations. In addition to Operations, his experience has included financial planning; fleet planning; operational support and analytics; and network planning. Prior to joining Southwest, he worked for Ernst & Young. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Comerica Bank.
Other leadership changes and announcements are:
• Greg Wells has been promoted to Executive Vice President Daily Operations, reporting to Van de Ven. Wells will be responsible for Ground, Air, and Technical operations; he also will oversee the airline’s Hospitality efforts and the systemwide President’s Council, which focuses on operational policies, services, and innovations. Wells will continue in his role as the Company’s Emergency Director and oversee the airline’s response efforts to various emergency events such as an aircraft incident/accident, natural disaster, or global terror event.
• Andrew Watterson has been promoted to Senior Vice President & Chief Revenue Officer, and will assume additional responsibilities for the Customer Relations & Rapid Rewards Department. He will continue to report to Bob Jordan, Executive Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer, and also lead the Business Development, Revenue Management & Pricing, and Network Planning departments.
• Steve Goldberg has been promoted to Senior Vice President Ground Operations & Provisioning and will report to Wells. The airline’s Provisioning operations will move from Cabin Services to Ground Operations and report to Goldberg.
• Vice President Labor Relations Michael Ryan has announced his retirement effective March 1, 2017, and Russell McCrady has been named Vice President to succeed him in that role and will report to Van de Ven.
Kelly, 61, has been with Southwest for 30 years and CEO for the last 12 years. He continues in his role as CEO and as the Chairman of Southwest’s Board of Directors. In addition to overseeing the business and operations of the airline, Kelly’s focus will be in external areas including political, governmental and industry affairs; investor relationships; and community affairs and outreach; and internally on Employee and Culture activities.
“I am very excited to announce these executive changes, which will position us well to support our People and to collectively serve both our Customers and our Shareholders,” Kelly said. “It is important for us to evolve our Leadership structure as part of our ongoing succession planning process. We are fortunate to have such a deep bench of gifted Leaders, and these changes will allow for continued executive development, as individuals, and as a team. I am excited about our future and our numerous opportunities, and I look forward to working with this team for years to come.”
William Cunningham, Ph.D., Presiding Director of Southwest’s Board of Directors, said: “On behalf of the Southwest Board, let me say we are delighted with these moves and very supportive of Gary and his team. We know Tom and Mike well, and they are very deserving of these new roles. Gary’s leadership has helped write an unprecedented and wildly successful chapter for Southwest. He and the Leadership team have had to guide the Company and its 52,000 Warriors through significant change to remain competitive, job secure, and prosperous—and emerge with the corporate soul still intact. This was no easy task, and the Board has been impressed by the effort and the outstanding results–for Employees, Customers, and Shareholders, alike.”
Kelly, Nealon, and Van de Ven, along with the rest of Southwest’s Leadership and Employees, will work to deliver on a strategic plan that realizes the Vision to make Southwest the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.