Why Am I Not Talking About JetBlue’s Move at The Top?


07_05_16 neelemanoutIt’s funny. When JetBlue announced that the Board had decided to remove David Neeleman as CEO last week, I didn’t even think twice about blogging it. Now that I’ve gotten a few emails from people asking about my thoughts, I thought I’d explain why I hadn’t written about it in the first place.

I think it’s a good thing for the airline, but I don’t see it as anything completely earth-shaking, especially for the customer.

See, Neeleman is a great visionary, but he also gets bogged down in the weeds. The Board, which deserves a ton of credit for making a move this big (I wish other boards would do the same *cough* United *cough*), decided it was time to find a way to prevent him from getting stuck in the day-to-day stuff while still being able to benefit from his vision. So, by removing the CEO role from him and isolating him as Chairman, they’re trying to force that change.

Meanwhile, Dave Barger, who has been Neeleman’s partner in this thing since the beginning will now take over the top role. Some people have wondered if this is the end of JetBlue culture. No way. Barger has been there since the beginning, and this isn’t a shocking transition. Things will go on for the most part as they have been going lately anyway, but now Neeleman won’t be able to stick his nose in too deep.

At least, that’s the theory. I imagine that Neeleman will have a hard time sticking to the high level stuff just because his title has changed. You can’t change a person that quickly, especially a guy like Neeleman. So if he truly can find a way to stay away from where he doesn’t belong, it will be a big improvement for the airline. They will be able to dedicate their focus to real problems, big problems and that is how it should be.

If, however, Neeleman can’t stay away, there’s a decent chance that the Board will have to remove him entirely from the airline. Considering they had the guts to make this move, I’d like to think they’ll be willing to make that move as well if necessary.

So for now, I just don’t see this having a huge impact. JetBlue has been in the throes of change for some time. They’ve basically completely turned over their management team in the last couple years, and this is just another move that needs to be made to help complete the transition to a more mature airline. Behind the scenes, it should afford the airline more focus on pressing problems, but for the customer, I don’t think there’s going to be much impact.

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