Glenn Tilton, named chairman, president and chief executive officer of United parent UAL Corp. on Monday, will have to move quickly. The world's second-largest carrier is in a crisis that its outgoing leadership warned could result in a bankruptcy filing this fall.
In his first remarks as CEO, Tilton avoided any reference to bankruptcy and instead voiced confidence he can help United become financially sound with a plan relying on its strengths including an extensive worldwide route network and young fleet.
"Our highest priorities must be to restore employee trust and revive investor and customer confidence," he said in his first remarks in his new post. "That means working cooperatively with all of United's stakeholders on a plan to address near-term financial issues and develop a much-needed, long-term strategy for the company's renewed growth."
Tilton's hiring by UAL's board of directors in a Labor Day conference call ended a four-month search for a successor to interim CEO Jack Creighton, who turned 70 a day earlier. The move won cautious praise from industry observers and both of United's powerful unions.
Passenger advocate David Stempler called the hiring an important step for United in trying to resolve lingering issues, including labor concessions and its pending application for a $1.8 billion federal loan guarantee.
"There's been a cloud over United for a while in terms of who's in charge and who's going to lead them in the future, and this enables them to move forward," said Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.
Tilton, 54, vice chairman of ChevronTexaco Corp. and acting chairman of energy marketer Dynegy Inc., was selected by a unanimous vote that included those of the two union representatives. As part of the management overhaul, president Rono Dutta and chief operating officer Andy Studdert resigned.
Union officials welcomed the departures of Dutta and Studdert, who crafted United's unsuccessful strategy over the past two years, and urged Tilton to better heed employees' input at the 55 percent worker-owned company. He'll get an early chance on Wednesday, when the company has summoned all its union leaders for a meeting.
"United needs management that understands what employee ownership means," said Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents 37,000 United employees.
The Chicago-based carrier has posted losses of nearly $3 billion in the past 18 months and wants to slash costs by $2.5 billion annually, including $1.5 billion from labor, in order to get the government loan guarantee and return to financial stability.
Tilton has spent more than three decades in the oil and energy businesses. He was named chairman and CEO of Texaco Inc. last year, shortly before its acquisition by Chevron Corp. He was named to Dynegy's board in January and became interim CEO in May.
By Dave Carpenter