American Airlines has today announced some significant leadership changes. At first I was excited about this because I (and many others) think American needs a new direction and a new CEO, and there have been rumors of these changes being imminent. Well, unfortunately there aren’t any changes at the very top.
So, what’s changing?
American’s SVP Of Customer Experience Is Retiring
To start, American’s SVP of Customer Experience, Kerry Philipovitch, will be leaving the airline at the end of 2019. This is part of a long-planned desire on her part to move to a new phase of life, so this doesn’t come out of left field or as a surprise.
I have to be honest, I haven’t heard a whole lot about Philipovitch, either positive or negative. She has been at the airline a long time. I don’t think she’s to blame for American’s lackluster customer experience (I think the direction is decided on at a higher level), though I also feel like American could use some new blood in that department.
American Airlines President Robert Isom said the following about Philipovitch:
“Kerry is one of the very best leaders I have had the privilege of working with. She is a great advisor, consummate team player and champion of those we serve inside and outside the company. She led the industry’s largest reservations system cutover and has been at the helm of numerous efficiency projects critical to our integration. American is far better because of Kerry’s contributions, including her work to promote passengers’ rights, support our diversity and inclusion initiatives, and launch innovative customer service training for team members. We will miss her, but Kerry has more than earned the right to do what is best for her and her family. Thankfully she has trained a stellar group of leaders who will carry on her legacy to drive operational excellence with the utmost care for our team.”
American Realigning Operations & Commercial Teams
With this change, American is also taking the opportunity to realign their operations and commercial teams around four key pillars of business — operations, network, revenue, and customer. Currently they don’t have such a “clean” structure.
As Isom describes these changes:
“This is an opportunity to sharpen our focus on the key parts of our airline: running a reliable operation, expanding the world’s best network, maximizing all aspects of revenue to ensure American thrives forever, and delivering a superior customer journey as we create a world-class customer experience. This restructure puts innovative and extremely capable leaders at the forefront of these initiatives.”
Best network in the world? Making sure American thrives forever? Delivering a superior customer journey? Creating a world-class customer experience? That’s a tall order if I’ve ever seen one…
With that, the following four leaders will assume responsibilities for these teams:
David Seymour, Senior Vice President of Operations
Seymour is currently SVP of Operations, and will maintain that role. As it’s described, the goal is to move past integrating operations, and focus on “operational excellence.”
Vasu Raja, Senior Vice President Of Network Strategy
Raja is currently VP of Network Planning, and is being promoted to SVP with more responsibilities. So he’ll not only be responsible for American’s route network (as before), but he’ll also oversee alliances and partnerships.
The closer connection between network strategy and alliances and partnerships makes perfect sense, and could lead to some interesting routes.
Don Casey, Senior Vice President Of Revenue
Casey is currently SVP of Revenue Management, so I guess they’re making that broader to encompass more aspects of the airline. He will oversee revenue, and the way this is described, the new structure will lead to “responding to the ever-changing market needs of American’s customers.” You know, our needs like basic economy and stuff like that.
Kurt Stache, Senior Vice President Of Customer Experience
Stache is currently SVP of Marketing, Loyalty, and Sales, and will be transitioning to customer experience, so he is taking over Philipovitch’s role. Jill Surdek is also being promoted to SVP of Flight Service.
It’s an interesting decision to put someone in charge of loyalty, marketing, and sales, in charge of customer experience…
What About Doug Parker?
On the surface this change in management seems logical, and hopefully it will create a more cohesive structure. For example, it makes perfect sense that network planning works closely with partnerships.
Of course shuffling around job titles only does so much, and actions speak louder than words. We’re hearing about how the airline is now moving past the integration phase, which I feel like should have happened a while back.
What American really needs is a new CEO. It’s not that the CEO singlehandedly determines the success of the airline, but just about everyone has lost faith in Parker, and a fresh start would go a long way.
With that in mind, I’m not sure what exactly to make of this announcement as it relates to Parker:
- On the one hand, I’d assume that if they were going to radically change their corporate structure, the departure of the CEO would be part of that
- On the other hand, I guess maybe not, because seeing that much change at once may concern investors; so it could be that this is phase one, and phase two is Parker leaving
It’s also interesting to note that Parker isn’t once mentioned in the press release. That’s not necessarily unusual (since all of these executives report to Isom), but is interesting nonetheless.
I’m curious what you guys make of this announcement — is this a sign of an even bigger shakeup in American management, or is this Parker & Co. trying to buy themselves time by trying to restructure things a bit?