New American Airlines CEO Robert Isom Can Run Operations. Can He Lead An Airline?
Robert Isom discusses the American-Alaska partnership in February 2020. (ELAINE THOMPSON/The Associated Press)
By TED REED/Forbes
Five years after he was designated American Airlines’ CEO-in-waiting, Robert Isom will get his chance to move to the top job in April. Is he prepared?
In terms of operational management, Isom’s skills have been clear since he rejoined American CEO Doug Parker at US Airways in 2007, after several years away from the airline industry. He is known to Wall Street, having spoken regularly on earnings calls since he took over as president in 2015. He is also known to labor, whose leaders have had multiple opportunities to assess his leadership.
In general, the perception is the obvious one: Improving operations is one thing, while being a leader and displaying vision for the future are something else, something that cannot be easily assessed during a time when an industry visionary is already running the company.
Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s 14,000 pilots, compared Isom’s promotion to a pilot’s move from first officer to captain. “You gain new authority,” he said. “But you don’t know if you will be a successful captain until you move.”
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