Southwest Airlines said on Wednesday long-time Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly will step down next year to become the executive chairman and will be succeeded by company veteran Robert Jordan.
Kelly, 66, who became the CEO in 2004, has led Southwest through some of the airline industry’s most turbulent times, including the coronavirus crisis that hammered travel demand.
As CEO, he spearheaded several initiatives, including the acquisition of AirTran Airways, the launch of international destinations for the first time in Southwest’s history, and the introduction of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 into the airline’s fleet, the company said.
Jordan, 60, joined the airline in 1988, and has served in roles including director of revenue accounting and corporate controller, among others. He will take charge effective Feb. 1, 2022.
Southwest’s shares fell about 1% in early trading. The stock has more than tripled in value during Kelly’s tenure.
This is the latest transition at the top at a major U.S. airline.
Rival United Airlines last year named insider Scott Kirby to succeed Oscar Munoz to the top job.
Kirby landed at United from American Airlines in 2016 after the board passed over him as a potential leader.
Following Kirby’s departure, American elevated Robert Isom, then chief operating officer, to the role of president. Isom is heir apparent to American Chief Executive Doug Parker.