Delta Hires Outsider for CEO, Passes Over CFO

The airline hires a former Northwest chief executive.
Sarah JohnsonAugust 21, 2007

Delta Air Lines has promoted its CFO to president, but passed over him in its choice for CEO. On Tuesday, the airline simultaneously gave CFO Edward Bastian the additional title of president and hired former Northwest Airlines chief executive Richard Anderson as CEO.

Bastian and Delta’s chief operating officer, James Whitehurst, were the likely internal candidates for the CEO job, according to press reports. In fact, outgoing CEO Gerald Grinstein had asked the board to appoint someone from within the company, the Associated Press noted.

But the airline’s final decision rested with an external candidate. “After a thorough search, the board concluded that Richard Anderson possesses the right blend of seasoned leadership, strategic skills, international experience, and airline knowledge the company needs to navigate the industry’s challenges and capitalize on its opportunities,” said Daniel Carp, chairman of Delta’s board of directors.

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As an outsider, Anderson will need to get feedback from his new employees when he begins the job on September 1, he acknowledged. “In the coming weeks, I will spend the majority of my time listening to Delta people to learn how we can further improve the customer experience and position our company as an even better place to work,” he said.

Anderson most recently served as director for United Health, which he joined in 2004. He previously worked at Northwest for 14 years, where he moved up from deputy general counsel and chief operating officer to CEO from 2001 to 2004.

Bastian started his nearly nine-year tenure at Delta as vice president of finance before leaving briefly to take the CFO job at Acuity Brands. He became CFO two years ago, abupty replacing Michael Palumbo, who had filled the spot for only 14 months.

Delta’s announcement on Tuesday fueled rumors of a merger between the two airlines. The two businesses share a recent bumpy history as both emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year, nearly two years after both of them filed for Chapter 11 protection on the same day.