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Continental Airlines COO promoted to CEO

Continental Airlines announced today that Jeff Smisek, Continental’s president and chief operating officer and a member of the board of directors, will become chairman and chief executive officer, e

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Continental Airlines announced today that Jeff Smisek, Continental’s president and chief operating officer and a member of the board of directors, will become chairman and chief executive officer, effective January 1, 2010. Smisek will succeed Larry Kellner who has decided to return to private equity at year-end after 14 years with Continental, the last five of them as chairman and CEO.

“It has been a great honor to lead the professional men and women of Continental and be part of the premier airline in the industry,” Kellner said. “I have worked closely with Jeff throughout my tenure, and he is a strong and effective leader. I am confident Jeff will maintain Continental’s unique culture and successfully lead the Continental team through these challenging times.

“While I will deeply miss my co-workers at Continental, it is the right time for this transition. Continental has gained approval from DOT of our Star Alliance application, which will allow us to continue as an effective global competitor,” Kellner added.

“The board thanks Larry for his tremendous leadership of Continental during some of the most challenging times this industry has faced,” said Henry Meyer, lead director for Continental. “The board has consistently focused on succession planning, and Jeff’s experience, skills, and long partnership with Larry make him the ideal executive to succeed Larry as chairman and CEO. We look forward to working with Jeff as he continues Continental’s industry leadership.”

“Although I am saddened that Larry has decided to move on, I respect his decision and wish him continued success,” said Smisek. “Over the next several months, Larry and I will work together to ensure a smooth transition. Our entire team will remain focused on returning our company to profitability, and Continental’s great culture will continue to be the driving force of the company’s long-term success,” he added.

Houston-based board member Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell noted Kellner’s civic contributions. “The Houston community has been blessed with having Larry as both a leader at Continental and a leader of our community. Continental has been a tremendous partner to the Houston community and we look forward to working with Jeff as he assumes his new role,” said Pastor Caldwell.

Continental was named Fortune magazine’s No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline in each year of Kellner’s tenure as chairman and CEO. He fostered Continental’s working together culture, while leading the carrier’s expansion into London Heathrow, China, and India and focusing the company on fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility.

Kellner will head Emerald Creek Group, LLC, a new private investment firm based in Houston.

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