JetBlue Airways said today its founder, David Neeleman, is stepping aside as chief executive officer and will be succeeded in that role by David Barger, Mr. Neeleman’s long-time No. 2 executive, reports The New York Times.
The moves come months after an operational breakdown at Kennedy Airport left hundreds of passengers stranded on JetBlue planes for hours, prompting Mr. Neeleman to start an overhaul of the carrier to avoid a repeat of the episode.
Neeleman, will stay on board at JetBlue as non-executive Chairman of the Board, according to the company's press release.
In the aftermath of JetBlue's Valentine's Day meltdown, Fast Company Senior Writer Chuck Salter caught up with Neeleman to see what the company had learned. Though the notoriously involved CEO (he even blogged) appeared "burdened, testy, exhausted" and even snapped at Salter's questions, he expressed his sincere disappointment in himself and his company and seemed anxious to rebuild the airline's image. One of his first moves was instituting a forward-thinking (but expensive) Consumer Bill of Rights reimbursing customers for ground delays.
JetBlue stood poised to overcome the February fiasco because of the seven years of goodwill it had built with its loyal customers, experts in customer trust and corporate crisis management told Salter. JetBlue—and specifically its visionary founder—cared that it screwed up, and that meant the world to the airline's customers.
But a big part of that trust and consumer loyalty was based Neeleman's personal agency in the company's structure, culture and values. His departure raises the question: What does it mean when a company loses its visionary founder and the entrepreneur responsible for the culture and strategy that made it a success?
And more importantly, will new CEO Barger blog?