Southwest Airlines Announces Leadership Changes


Southwest Airlines | Image by Shutterstock

Southwest Airlines’ current president and chief operating officer (COO) will be stepping down amid executive leadership changes within the company.

Southwest Airlines announced Monday that its president and COO, Mike Van de Ven, will be stepping down to take an advisory role in 2023. Van de Ven will leave his role as COO at the end of September after serving in the position for nearly 14 years and from his role as president at the end of December.

Southwest’s current chief executive officer, Bob Jordan, will assume the role of president effective January 1, 2023.

“I want to thank Mike for nearly three decades of leadership and his unwavering commitment to the cause that is Southwest Airlines. We would not be where we are today without his countless contributions,” Jordan said in a press release.

With 29 years of experience working at Southwest, Van de Ven has held various leadership roles within the company and sought to improve operational capabilities, including steering the airline through much of its pandemic recovery efforts.

“I’ve had the privilege to work in a variety of roles during my tenure at Southwest, but for nearly the last 17 years, I have been focused on supporting our operation,” the 61-year-old Van de Ven said in a memo to employees. “I imagine my feelings about this work have been similar to what many of you feel on any given day: exhilarating, rewarding, incredibly fun … and sometimes exhausting.”

Southwest’s rate of leadership turnover has been an issue that began last summer when former CEO Gary Kelly announced he was retiring and would be replaced by Jordan. At the time, Jordan was the company’s executive vice president of corporate services.

The shake-up in executive-level leadership at the airline has created challenges, but in all instances, Southwest has managed to hold onto departing executives for advisory roles.

The leadership changes could come at an ideal time for the Dallas-based airline, which has struggled with operational performance. From January to July, Southwest only landed 73.1% of its flights on time, according to the 2022 Air Travel Consumer Report.

In addition to uneven operational performance, Southwest has been in heated negotiations with the airline pilots’ union, customer service workers, flight attendants, and dispatchers, among others.

Van de Ven’s announcement that he would be stepping down as president and COO paves the way for several other leadership changes effective October 1, 2022, Southwest said.

Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s current executive vice president (EVP) and chief commercial officer (CCO), will be promoted to the airline’s COO role.

Likewise, Ryan Green will move from his role as senior vice president (SVP) and chief marketing officer (CMO) to replace Watterson as EVP and CCO.

Lastly, Linda Rutherford will be promoted from EVP of people & communications and chief communications officer to chief administration & communications officer.

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