Southwest Airlines President Tom Nealon Retires Immediately, COO Mike Van de Ven Named as Replacement

Southwest also announced several senior leader promotions.

Southwest Airlines announced big leadership moves today following the news that Tom Nealon had decided to retire from his role as president, effective immediately.

During his time at Southwest, Nealon held a number of leadership positions, including EVP of strategy & innovation from 2016 to 2017 and director on the Southwest board from 2010 to 2015. He also served in a consultant capacity as SVP and CIO from 2002 to 2006. 

In his four-year gap away from Southwest, he was the group executive vice president for JCPenney.

Nealon’s retirement comes on the heels of Southwest naming 33-year company veteran Bob Jordan its CEO-in-waiting in June. Several publications reported that he was ready to take the helm, but was ultimately passed over for the chief executive spot.

He will continue on as a strategic advisor primarily focused on the Dallas-based air carrier’s carbon emissions reduction plan. 

“I’m honored to have served Southwest throughout the years in several different capacities, and especially to have been President of the best airline in the business,” Nealon said in a news release. “I look forward to continuing to serve and advise Southwest on strategic initiatives, and most importantly, on the airline’s long-term environmental sustainability plans.”

Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s chief operating officer, will now assume Nealon’s role immediately, in addition to his current position as COO. He originally joined the airline in 1993, and has offered executive leadership to a number of departments since.

His past positions at Southwest include EVP of Aircraft Operations, SVP of Planning, VP of Financial Planning & Analysis, and director of Internal Audit.

As president, Van de Ven’s responsibilities will drastically expand—he will now oversee Southwest’s internal audit, business continuity, emergency response, and enterprise risk management functions, the company said.

Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly made the announcement on behalf of the board of directors. The transition is being led by Jordan, who is set to succeed Kelly as CEO in February 2022.

“I want to thank Tom for his countless contributions to the cause that is Southwest Airlines over the years—they are many and immeasurable,” Kelly said in a statement. “Mike is as talented and dedicated a leader as one will find, and he has directly contributed to Southwest’s success during his 28 years serving the company and our people.”

Southwest said with the news, all finance, commercial, legal and regulatory, operations, and technology teams that were reporting to Kelly or Nealon will now report to Jordan.

“I’m pleased with the team’s flexibility and support as we continue the steady pace of our leadership transition efforts,” Jordan said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with Tom on our sustainability imperatives and collaborating with Mike as we set the agenda for the company moving forward.”

Additional exec moves

Southwest also included a number of senior leadership promotions with the news.

Managing Director of Communications & Outreach Laurie Barnett will move to the role of VP of Communications & Outreach, responsible for PR, creative studio, digital and social, and community outreach functions. She previously assisted in creating leadership support for Southwest’s emergency response, business continuity, and enterprise risk management.

Ryan Martinez has been promoted to VP of Investor Relations from managing director of Investor Relations. He is credited with helping to evolve Southwest’s IR strategies and communications, specifically in reaching investors while managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Juan Suarez is now the VP of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Formerly managing director and deputy general counsel in the legal department, Suarez will now champion Southwest’s internal and external DEI goals, advising on policies and practices while partnering with peers.

Deputy General Counsel and Corporate Secretary Marilyn Post has been promoted to the VP of Legal and corporate secretary. She leads the legal department’s Corporate & Transactions team, which assists with all legal details of securities and transactional matters. 

Lauren Woods has been promoted from the managing director of Technology to VP of Technology-Technology Platforms. She and her teams will be tasked with delivering stable platforms and driving tech transformation efforts.

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