by Meridith Levinson

New Career Plans for Airline CIOs

May 01, 20062 mins

Financial troubles at Delta, United Airlines and JetBlue are raising the profiles of CIOs at these companies.

In March, JetBlue’s Todd Thompson was promoted to senior VP and CIO. He reports to the low-cost airfare provider’s CFO, John Owen. Thompson first boarded JetBlue in January 2004 as VP of IT (replacing Jeff Cohen, JetBlue’s first VP of IT) and was named CIO last year. The company also promoted Tim Hickey from director of IT to VP of IT operations. He reports to Thompson. The appointments came six weeks after JetBlue announced a $20 million loss for 2005.

Also in March, United CIO Gary Kelly saw his role expand. Senior VP of Strategic Sourcing Rick Poulton announced his resignation from the Chicago-based carrier, and Kelly is now responsible for strategic sourcing, continuous improvement, industrial and process engineering, and operations research in addition to IT. United exited bankruptcy in February. Kelly, former Sears Roebuck CIO, joined United last fall, replacing Nirup Krishnamurthy, who left United to join asset management services provider Northern Trust as its executive VP and CTO.

At Delta, Shirley Bridges was promoted from COO to president and CEO of the airline’s IT subsidiary, Delta Technology, a week before Delta released its 2005 earnings in February. Bridges was also named the airline’s CIO. Her predecessor, Brian Leinbach, left his post as senior VP and CIO of Delta and president and CEO of Delta Technology late in 2005. Bridges is the third CIO in a little over a year for Delta—Curtis Robb, who held the job for three years, retired April 2005.

Steve Kendrick, a recruiter with Spencer Stuart, says it’s common for airlines to look internally for talent during trying times. “When you need someone to participate at a senior level in a time of crisis, you want someone who’s credible, understands the business and has good relationships internally,” he says.