Delta’s New Chief Operating Officer Has No Airline Experience

Delta’s New Chief Operating Officer Has No Airline Experience

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Delta Air Lines has this week appointed a new senior executive, who seems like a surprising pick…

Mike Spanos appointed as Delta Chief Operating Officer

Mike Spanos has been appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Delta, and he’ll begin his new role as of June 12, 2023.

For some background, Spanos spent more than 25 years working in leadership roles at PepsiCo and the Pepsi Bottling Group, including having regional executive roles across the United States, Turkey, China, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, being President and CEO at PepsiCo International sectors, and being Chief Customer Officer at Pepsi Beverages North America. More recently, Spanos was President and CEO at Six Flags Entertainment.

Delta claims that Spanos shares the company’s “values of servant leadership and always putting people first.” Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, Allison Ausband, and Chief of Operations, John Laughter, will report to Spanos, who will report directly to CEO Ed Bastian.

Here’s how Bastian described Spanos in a memo to employees:

“The experience and perspective Mike brings to Delta will enhance and accelerate the integration across our operational, customer experience and technology teams, aligning them to deliver an unsurpassed product and service for our customers and our employees.”

Meanwhile here’s what Spanos said about his new role:

“The Delta people are the best in the business. I’m looking forward to getting started, visiting the operation and rolling up my sleeves to enable our team to do what they do every day: run the world’s best airline for our customers.”

Delta has appointed a new Chief Operating Officer

I’m curious to see how this goes…

Airlines often go to one of two extremes when it comes to hiring for senior positions — sometimes they hire people who have been at the company for decades, while other times they hire people who have never even worked in the industry.

I can of course see the merit to both of those — it’s good to reward those who been loyal to the company for a long time and have a track record of success, and other times it’s good to get a fresh perspective on things from an outsider.

I will say, however, that at this point in Delta’s history, I do find it a bit odd to hire a COO with no airline experience. This comes at a time when Delta has been struggling operationally more than pre-pandemic. Both the beverage and theme park business are vastly different than the airline business. And while many skills and concepts of course transfer between industries, the airline industry is particularly complex.

I suppose his lack of airline experience isn’t an issue as long as he has good people reporting to him, who do have a lot of airline experience (and that seems to be the case). But it also reminds me of how a new United MileagePlus CEO was recently appointed, who previously worked at Comcast. Because, you know, no one knows how to keep customers loyal quite like cable companies.

Is this a good time to hire someone with no airline experience?

Bottom line

Delta has hired a new Chief Operating Officer with no airline experience, who previously worked at Six Flags and PepsiCo. This is an interesting choice, given the complexity of the airline industry, and also the operational challenges that Delta has faced in recent times. We’ve seen quite some shifts in senior management at Delta since the start of the pandemic, though I find this to be one of the more unusual new appointments.

What do you make of Delta’s choice for a new COO?

Conversations (77)
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  1. Randy Lee Guest

    Hire for attitude and management. Train for skill. There is magic, skill and talent in accomplished executives. Yes even without direct industry experience.

  2. William W Stanley Guest

    Perhaps putting someone into this position who knows nothing of the airline industry can have a good effect because the person with no experience is going to see things he doesn't understand or that he thinks are odd and will ask questions. Asking questions can lead to new policies and procedures which just might improve things!

  3. thad crackle Guest

    frank borman at eal the same way look what happened at eastern .

  4. Steerage Guest

    Wasn't John Sculley from Pepsi. Look how he screwed up Apple.
    Let's hope the Pepsi phenoeom doesn't follow Mr Spanos.

  5. Mlloyd996 New Member

    I would just prefer them to treat us like we value. The constant devaluation of skymiles and benefits to very frequently flyers (I'm already at 75 MQSs and over $15k spent...all in economy). I'll hit Diamond by mid July...but losing lounge access next year because I don't have one of their CCs. Pretty insulting to the road warriors that choose to fly them. Service wise, I rarely have problems..but their loyalty is with AMEX card...

    I would just prefer them to treat us like we value. The constant devaluation of skymiles and benefits to very frequently flyers (I'm already at 75 MQSs and over $15k spent...all in economy). I'll hit Diamond by mid July...but losing lounge access next year because I don't have one of their CCs. Pretty insulting to the road warriors that choose to fly them. Service wise, I rarely have problems..but their loyalty is with AMEX card holders ..not us with our butts in the seats constantly

    1. sean Guest

      I'll bet your loyalty is for PERSONAL use, while a business is paying the actual FARE. Your company allows you to keep a benefit that DELTA is giving you. If you have another choice, go to another airline if they treat you so poorly. Im sure your boss will agree for you to pay more and miss meetings for you to fly for better perks,

  6. DJM Guest

    I'm a Delta Skymiles (credit card) member who originally signed on as a Northwest Airlines miles CC member. Delta Skymiles have become crap. I flew with Delta internationally in March of this year. Way too many miles needed for the flight. Not great service on the flight.
    I'll be getting a different CC miles card with JAL soon, as I just compared a similar flight with miles cost with JAL, and it's a lot...

    I'm a Delta Skymiles (credit card) member who originally signed on as a Northwest Airlines miles CC member. Delta Skymiles have become crap. I flew with Delta internationally in March of this year. Way too many miles needed for the flight. Not great service on the flight.
    I'll be getting a different CC miles card with JAL soon, as I just compared a similar flight with miles cost with JAL, and it's a lot less miles to go with them, yet the cost (usage on the CC) to get a mile is the same. Goodbye Delta Skymiles. Hello, JAL.

  7. Tarmo Guest

    DELTA was a great airline - its on the road to HELL now - so sad - so many lies - the job of executives is to MAX shareholder profit always at customers expense !

  8. Kris Guest

    I'm a little over 4 years here. I was in 23 years of consulting before and was fortunate to work with the best of the best before.

    Often senior leadership from a completely different industry are the absolute best - they bring brilliant ideas to the table that nobody in the industry thought of before.

  9. Joe Dlouhy Guest

    When I WOKE up and looked at using my pounts to fly to Europe I nearly fainted. I hope this guy wakes up. Treat the frontline employees who do the work well and your bottom line improves. Don t put your umbrella first.

  10. Joejv Guest

    John Scully was a Pepsi Co. guy that Steve Jobs recruited to run Apple. How’d that work out?

  11. Leigh Diamond

    It's a blog, so not intended as a media outlet...and the comments are on par with that you get from blog readers.

    There are some thoughtful comments, don't get me wrong...

    In short, it's certainly an interesting move, but causes ZERO question or concern.

    When you earn your way into the C-Suite level it's about expertise in evaluating strategy and people deployment and development. It's the people that ultimately contribute to the strategy and...

    It's a blog, so not intended as a media outlet...and the comments are on par with that you get from blog readers.

    There are some thoughtful comments, don't get me wrong...

    In short, it's certainly an interesting move, but causes ZERO question or concern.

    When you earn your way into the C-Suite level it's about expertise in evaluating strategy and people deployment and development. It's the people that ultimately contribute to the strategy and have the end responsibility for delivering upon it.

    For example, back in the day of the traditional multi-national conglomerates (yes, we still have them, but not the same in structure, industries or depth of previous decades)...GE was famous for moving C-Suite talent between various unrelated industries for both management development and to have them contribute their insights to their new assignments.

    It's business.

  12. A. AVRETT Guest

    Interesting. However not surprised. Bastian started as a lawyer for Pepsi so I'm sure he's familiar with this new pick.

  13. Andrew Y Guest

    Ed Bastian came from Frito Lay and this guy is from Pepsi. Chips and soda is a perfect combo, not sure why it doesn't make sense...

  14. Ross Kennedy Guest

    Umm, not a good move, will be a bean counter mentality, will be one step removed from decision making and swayed by the most eloquent subordinate. Share options? If part of his package, that is bad news for Delta. Have personally seen a fantastic company destroyed by an outsider with zero knowledge and share options.

    1. Jr Guest

      Would you say the same thing is they hired one of your family members?

  15. Tim Dunn Diamond

    I get such a charge out of seeing my name all over replies to articles before I ever post a word.

    Seriously, people don't get to this level of leadership in any company unless they prove their ability to learn quickly and work w/ people who know more than them.

    The guy probably knew more about Delta than most of the people that reply to this forum.

    Since the most that some people can do...

    I get such a charge out of seeing my name all over replies to articles before I ever post a word.

    Seriously, people don't get to this level of leadership in any company unless they prove their ability to learn quickly and work w/ people who know more than them.

    The guy probably knew more about Delta than most of the people that reply to this forum.

    Since the most that some people can do is talk about other others and try to find fault w/ the most profitable airline on the planet, it isn't terribly difficult for this guy to jump 10 feet above the bar.

    1. DesertGhost Guest

      I have to wonder what you would have written if Mr. Spanos had been hired by United or American. Based on your track record, it probably wouldn't have been very complimentary. By the way, I thought Delta was the world's only perfect airline. LOL

    2. Gaybe Guest

      It’s just Tim Dim….. he admits he “get a charge” out of people mocking his DL fanboydom…. He doesn’t realize anything that comes out of his mouth is met with an eyeroll because everyone knows what his opinion will be before he even posts….. therefore maybe one day he will think “why even post at all”, on that day the clouds will part and the angels will sing and the world will be just a bit better!

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      you too allow me to live rent free in your head - and it gets worse w/ each passing post you make.

    4. Gaybe Guest

      That’s is Tim Dumb….. feed the troll, feed the troll! You know you can’t restrain yourself…. Everytime you do it’s less DL BS we need to hear, and the more you “get a charge” off it and slip deeper into absurdity in the eyes of normal viewers on here! If you were smart you’d just ignore me but you don’t have the self control!

    5. MaxPower Guest

      He does make you laugh though…
      The other day when he couldn’t even read or comprehend what concordeboy was saying about the a350s (on a topic about LH buying LA’s a350s but Tim just couldn’t help himself and started talking about Delta a350 performance to JNb) but still kept going… Such a fun read. I have to give tim credit, if it’s been a long day working, tim is always good for a laugh…...

      He does make you laugh though…
      The other day when he couldn’t even read or comprehend what concordeboy was saying about the a350s (on a topic about LH buying LA’s a350s but Tim just couldn’t help himself and started talking about Delta a350 performance to JNb) but still kept going… Such a fun read. I have to give tim credit, if it’s been a long day working, tim is always good for a laugh…

      Mr Concorde may not agree with me much, but his Tim takedown/bodyslam was one for the ages.

    6. FlyHigh Guest

      Delta is certainly that!

    7. Leigh Diamond

      I might think that Tim Dunn on occasion over plays it a bit, but he knows what the F*** he's taking about and I respect him as a source of knowledge...even if I balance it against my own industry knowledge.

      In short, get off his case until you have something knowledgeable to offer instead of immature and self-embarrassing nonsense.

    8. SoSongblue Guest

      @Leigh,

      I agree however Tim encourages it even though he knows he’s just getting trolled….so until such time Tim finds the strength to restrain himself and declines to respond I suspect this will continue. I’ve already encouraged him to do just that but he refuses! He’s compelled to engage in the tit for tat even though it’s way beneath him.

    9. Tim Dunn Diamond

      Trolling the trolls….

    10. Leigh Diamond

      I was trying to give you a compliment!!

    11. Tim Dunn Diamond

      I know you were, Leigh, and I appreciate it.
      Sorry if my short reply didn't capture to whom I was replying.

      and, if there is any doubt, I enjoy the rough and tumble wrestling on social media.

    12. Leigh Diamond

      @SoSongblue

      Respect you! And I admit having my own moments with his posts...and have commented so...but while he sometimes delivers his comments with too much gusto, I ultimately appreciate his facts, knowledge and general take on the industry. It's all part of a healthy and productive discussion...wouldn't it be great if that was the objective of commenting.

      (Anyways, @Ben, I am deep in Africa exploring every random airline I can (though I have been...

      @SoSongblue

      Respect you! And I admit having my own moments with his posts...and have commented so...but while he sometimes delivers his comments with too much gusto, I ultimately appreciate his facts, knowledge and general take on the industry. It's all part of a healthy and productive discussion...wouldn't it be great if that was the objective of commenting.

      (Anyways, @Ben, I am deep in Africa exploring every random airline I can (though I have been here many times before), and I am over the moon. When appropriate to your blog posts I'll share experiences. I will say that the little Zimbabwe carrier called fastjet is simply fantastic...top notch!!!)

    13. Sosongblue Guest

      @ Leigh

      Completely agree with every word you said, he just sorely needs to be softer on his delivery ..….enjoy Africa!

  16. Andrew Diamond

    Experience running a business in a duopoly? Check.
    Experience making > 10% operating margin? Check.
    Experience with consistent operations? Check.
    Experience with no (serious) loyalty program? Check.

    As an investor, I'd be okay with the hire. As a customer looking for mileage redemption and value, I'd continue the exodus away from SkyTeam.

    1. Brian Guest

      UA downgraded their mileage redemption program, where do you plan to go? When there is strong demand, aitlines have little incentive to discount reward tickets.

  17. EJ Guest

    ROTFLMAO! Now that is funny, I don’t care who you are! Sounds Ed had a brain fart!

    1. Gaybe Guest

      Wow EJ - How completely unfunny

  18. ZTravel Guest

    Delta needs new leadership on number of fronts.

    Their network is weak internationally, their strategy is to lean on half-baked joint ventures leaving their customers on their own trying to navigate and bridge these gaps.

    Their Delta One product is extremely expensive given the state of their Soft and Hard product. Food, amenity kits, seats, and FA (good lord, hospitality??)

    Last but not least… Skymiles. We all know airline loyalty is a thing of the...

    Delta needs new leadership on number of fronts.

    Their network is weak internationally, their strategy is to lean on half-baked joint ventures leaving their customers on their own trying to navigate and bridge these gaps.

    Their Delta One product is extremely expensive given the state of their Soft and Hard product. Food, amenity kits, seats, and FA (good lord, hospitality??)

    Last but not least… Skymiles. We all know airline loyalty is a thing of the past…but phase it out gradually! On a recent trip from Asia in Delta and upon arrival to the SkyClub in MSP, it took the staff good 10 min to clear me into the lounge although I was flying in international Delta One, and have the Reserve card.

    So I don’t care who they hire, it will make no difference.

    1. Rod767 Guest

      Oh no ZTravel, you will invoke the appearance of a certain TD with one of his long winded diatribes on how wonderful DL is!

    2. jedipenguin Guest

      US airlines should be allowed to hire foreigners for leadership positions.

  19. Gaybepilot Guest

    Where is Tim Dumb for his excellent commentary!?

  20. Marty Guest

    Where exactly is Delta "struggling" operationally? It's as always the best airline operationally. There's a reason that it's been chosen as the best airline again by any number of media outfits.

    1. UA GS @ SFO Guest

      Delta has looked good because of cheap tricks like delaying flights 12+ hours instead of cancelling them outright. Also the competition has been awful, albeit improving (AA) operationally.

      Delta is America's best airline because their airport agents and cabin crew are the least likely to have a bad attitude.

      "Media outfits" when they report on things like the best airline, best mattress, best rice cooker -- are all influenced by corporate PR.

    2. MC Guest

      Yawn. Sour grapes are exhausting

    3. Joe Guest

      Look at it’s completion factor lately. Terrible!

  21. Ken Guest

    Remember what happened to Apple when John Scully ( with no computer experience) was named CEO?

  22. Matt Guest

    It won't be a problem, this guy is seasoned enough to listen to those around him. I'd guess that his subordinates will live working for him. If he doesn't listen to those that know then he'll be out of a job pretty quickly

  23. MaxPower Guest

    In fairness to Delta, it makes a lot of sense for them to hire a Pepsico guy as COO so they can efficiently distribute sodas & cheetos to their stranded passengers at their next meltdown. Poor Atlanta, Delta really is going all-in with NYC after the NEA Breakup -- even hiring a Pepsi guy over a Coke guy.

    After their 2021 and 2022 meltdowns, maybe Delta decided it's just better to feed stranded passengers as...

    In fairness to Delta, it makes a lot of sense for them to hire a Pepsico guy as COO so they can efficiently distribute sodas & cheetos to their stranded passengers at their next meltdown. Poor Atlanta, Delta really is going all-in with NYC after the NEA Breakup -- even hiring a Pepsi guy over a Coke guy.

    After their 2021 and 2022 meltdowns, maybe Delta decided it's just better to feed stranded passengers as cheaply as possible rather than figure out how to fix their operation...

    1. Eskimo Guest

      Shouldn't trust Pepsi executives.

      LOL. Distribute sodas & Cheetos?
      Are you trying to torture him with the infamous "Pepsi, Where's My Jet?" line forever.

    2. Ivan X Member

      John Sculley did a pretty good job for Apple for a while. Though in terms of not trusting him, he did succeed in ousting Jobs in 1985. (Though Jobs staged the showdown.)

  24. JP Guest

    Jim Whitehurst did a pretty good job as COO with no prior airline experience (I believe). A lot of people felt he should have been picked instead of Ed.

  25. Frank Guest

    United Airlines hired Oscar Muñoz several years ago as CEO and he had no airline experience. He managed to turn the airline arround, especially in the area of improving employee relations. While United is not perfect it is certainly a better carrier because of him.

    1. MC Guest

      Agree. Regardless of what you think of their service, Delta is a well managed organization and are not wreckless in selecting their management team.

      If you have a strong business acumen and a strong operational team below you, knowing the tactical elements of a role is less critical to set the strategic direction of the functional area you’re leading.

    2. Eskimo Guest

      You give way Munoz too much credit.
      Credits should go to Smisek, if he didn't set the bar so low Munoz might not have pulled it off.

    3. Greg Guest

      Oscar served on the board of directors for many years, so he had airline experience on that front

      This clown has none

  26. Ben L. Diamond

    Clearly nobody at Delta watched the Charles Miner plot arc in The Office

    1. Eskimo Guest

      They're too busy watching Tim Dunn plot arc in multiple travel blogs.

  27. SBS Guest

    Six Flags is a relevant experience - herding customers from place to place, keeping them from strangling each other in long lines, strapping them into tight uncomfortable seats for a bumpy ride...

  28. George Romey Guest

    Well our Transportation Secretary knows nothing and has no experience in large scale transportation systems, public or private. And of course it shows. Really this is the new CEO class. Born to the right people, went to the right schools, says the right woke things and wella CEO of a huge company in an industry they no nothing about. And it shows.

    1. Lance Guest

      As soon as you dropped the word 'woke' your entire comment became pointless.

    2. Ben L. Diamond

      Perhaps someday, medical researchers will find a cure for the very specific form of Tourette's that prompts the afflicted to angrily blurt out the word "woke" all the time. Praying for you, George.

    3. ken Guest

      Sorry guys, he's right . Take off your blinders.

    4. George Romey Guest

      I'm sorry I also meant to add understands and will comply to an ESG score.

    5. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Perhaps someday, medical researchers will find a cure for the very specific form of Tourette's that prompts the afflicted to angrily blurt out the word "woke" all the time.

      Can I print this out and frame it? :)

    6. AC Guest

      I actually love it how people who often says "Research it! Educate yourself!" are often the same one who end up using the very very limited vocab that originates from a limited source but often wide distribution.

  29. Roberto Guest

    Tim Dunn in 3….2….1….

    1. Never In Doubt Guest

      This was posted 52 minutes ago, and no reflexive sycophantic response yet.

      Past time for a wellness check on Tim Dunn.

    2. Roberto Guest

      Yep. His Google alert for “Delta” must be acting up.

    3. Gaybepilot Guest

      Roberto you should know it’s now “Tim Dumb”!

    4. Eskimo Guest

      Or he spent the last 2 hour writing an essay detailing Mr. Spanos from childhood to Delta and how his time in 8th grade would make him a great COO.

    1. CedarSa Guest

      Hopefully Mr Dumb is taking a break from his DL fanboydom…. He’s getting badgered everywhere by unsavory characters on the other sites, perhaps he’s cooling his heels and learning to enjoy life!

  30. UA GS @ SFO Guest

    "Senior" positions come in two flavors.

    Senior IC (individual contributor) - these people need deep domain expertise and technical knowledge.

    Senior management (directors, VP, CXO) - these people need high levels of EQ to motivate people to do their best work, to connect people from different teams and give them the support to work effectively together, and to resolve conflicts between teams. This type of people skill-heavy work is agnostic to specific domains of knowledge.

    ...

    "Senior" positions come in two flavors.

    Senior IC (individual contributor) - these people need deep domain expertise and technical knowledge.

    Senior management (directors, VP, CXO) - these people need high levels of EQ to motivate people to do their best work, to connect people from different teams and give them the support to work effectively together, and to resolve conflicts between teams. This type of people skill-heavy work is agnostic to specific domains of knowledge.

    I am not concerned if a COO has no airline experience, I would only be concerned if they had no senior management experience.

  31. Greg Guest

    A Pepsi guy in ATL

    That'll go over well with the front lines

    UNITED rising again as Delta goes from one vapor ware release to another

    1. MC Guest

      That’s funny. United Rising. Where else can they go but up lol

    2. jedipenguin Guest

      Delta should go back to dusting crops.

    3. MC Guest

      And United back to delivering mail.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Lance Guest

As soon as you dropped the word 'woke' your entire comment became pointless.

6
DesertGhost Guest

I have to wonder what you would have written if Mr. Spanos had been hired by United or American. Based on your track record, it probably wouldn't have been very complimentary. By the way, I thought Delta was the world's only perfect airline. LOL

3
Ben L. Diamond

Perhaps someday, medical researchers will find a cure for the very specific form of Tourette's that prompts the afflicted to angrily blurt out the word "woke" all the time. Praying for you, George.

3
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