Talk about an eventful week. The day I posted my interview with Brian Znotins, VP of Network for United last week, he became the FORMER VP of Network. That’s right, Brian is no longer at United, so my interview at the Boyd Conference was quite timely.
I debated whether the rest of my interview with him was still worth posting or not, and I think there’s one piece in particular that’s interesting. I focused in on the part of our chat where we talked about the new leadership at the company. Let’s pick things up there with his response to my question about how the new leadership team is coming together.
Brian Znotins, Former VP Network, United: Well it’s only been a month, maybe a bit more than that. I met with Scott [Kirby, new President, United], he’s a great guy. I really enjoyed following him when he was at American as well, all of their earnings calls. It feels like there’s an airline language that he speaks so well that I really appreciate. And then Julia [Haywood, Chief Commercial Officer, United], she’s not foreign to our airline. She’s been with us for 18 months, working with me and Doug [Leo, SVP Network, Pricing, and Revenue Management, United] on the issues we’ve identified. And we’ve worked with Oscar [Munoz, CEO, United] to help identify what we need to do going forward. She’s not new to our network.
Cranky Flier: Sure, but consulting vs. working in an airline is different.
Brian: If you look at it, there are plenty of people who have made the jump to airlines and there’s a long list of them that have done exceptionally well. I think Julia’s really smart. It’s not something where I just had lunch with her and thought she was smart. I’ve been working with her for 18 months. She may not know, say, the nuances of slots and parking at Sao Paulo. Those are the kinds of things we have to get her up to speed on. But those are the micro things that she shouldn’t really be focused on anyway. From a macro level, like hub strategy, 50-seat replacements, she’s fully up to speed on that.
Cranky: So with the new management team coming in, does it feel like they’re saying “we’re on the right path” or are they really just saying “let’s think about everything, let’s get the microscope out”?
Brian: Certainly Julia’s been heavily involved in the strategy we’ve put together the last 18 months. She’s not coming in and turning this upside down. She knows exactly what the story is. Scott’s coming with a bit of a different perspective, so in a lot of ways the strategies are aligned. But I think Scott wants to take his time and go through route [profitability reports].
Cranky: I’m sure that was the first thing he picked up.
Brian: Yeah, actually one of the first meetings I had with him was going over how we measure route [profitability]. American has their own measurements and we have ours. I used to work for Canadian Airlines and they used American’s system. So I had a bit of a decoder ring to say “what you think is this, is actually that.” So we sat down, and then gave him a big stack of paper with all the route [profitability reports]. I think we’re still very much at the front end of his digestion of the data. But the chops of the team is really impressive.
Cranky: It’s pretty exciting to watch. The amount of change in the past year is somewhat staggering…
Brian: …It’s truly a period of discovery and change.
Well, you can say that again. Of course, a mere week after we had this discussion, Brian was out of there. I don’t know where he’ll end up next, but my understanding is that his role has been split in two. Grant Whitney will take over as the VP of the domestic network while an international VP will be named later. Grant, by the way, worked in the network group at US Airways, so it’s someone with whom Scott Kirby must be very familiar.
This looks like Scott is already leaving his mark on the network team. But Brian’s comments on how closely Julia has worked with that team over the last 18 months make you wonder if there might be some potential friction there between the old and the new. We’re already seeing some interesting changes in tone.
UBS analyst Darryl Genovesi had meetings with Julia, Scott, and Oscar. This was in his research note:
While no hub closures appear imminent, UAL’s hub-and-spoke review is ongoing, and the team did refer to LAX as a “big spoke” with limited opportunity to connect.
Well, that is certainly different. It sounds like there are a lot of moving parts at United right now. More change is bound to be coming soon.