According to an announcement by the firm that American Airlines tapped to find its new Chief Human Resources Officer, the role they’re hiring for will eventually report to Doug Parker’s replacement – who will be an internal hire – once Executive Vice President Elise Eberwein retires and the airline replaces Doug Parker as CEO with an internal candidate,
The CHRO, who will be based at the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, TX, will report to Elise Eberwein, American Airlines Group’s executive vice president, people and engagement. The airline is in the midst of a multi-year strategic succession planning process that is designed to prepare an internal executive for the chief executive officer role. “As that transition occurs, there are other key leadership transitions that will soon happen, including Elise’s retirement,” said the search firm. “After these moves take place, the CHRO will eventually report to the new CEO, who will be a key part of this interviewing and selection process.””
To be clear succession planning at American Airlines is not new. As part of this process in 2016 Scott Kirby was let go as President of the airline and hired on by United (he’s now United’s CEO). Parker described what happened in a session with employees.
And as we sat at the board level and talked about succession planning, we had a real concern about our ability to keep that team together. Someone was going to leave. So rather than watching and guessing who that was and trying to react we were proactive.
We’d like to keep me, Scott and Robert and keep doing what we’re doing for the last 20 years together but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the case. So let’s not let something happen that we didn’t manage so what do you want to do, what’s the best scenario of two of those three, and we decided the board decided it was me with Robert.
My guess at the time was that this was reactive, that United might even have offered the President job to Isom and so the board had a choice – Parker wasn’t ready to retire, so they weren’t going to be able to retain Kirby (no upward path), and so they decided to let Kirby go and promote Isom, since he’d have longer runway until expecting his next bump up to CEO.
Of course it’s possible that what American said at the time was really true, that this was part of their long-term succession planning, and they really did decide they wanted Isom for the future rather than Kirby (or didn’t think Kirby would wait around long enough). Either way Isom would have big shoes to fill dressing up as Billy Ray Cyrus and Boy George for Halloween.
Lucky at One Mile at a Time suggests “one wild card option would be Vasu Raja,” but it’s almost certain that current thinking is Robert Isom succeeds Doug Parker when Parker retires. Parker was already talking about his legacy before the pandemic.
American recently added Isom’s former boss, ex-Northwest Airlines CEO Doug Steenland to its board. That could bolster Isom’s chances as well, though Parker just suggested the move was because the board of the world’s largest airline lacks airline experience.
As for Elise Eberwein, when she steps down from her role perhaps she’ll have more time to write airline trip reports.
Of course the best plans are always subject to change by circumstance, and current planning for an internal candidate to succeed Parker – perfectly par for the course for any major public company – could be disrupted.