Longtime Southwest Airlines chairman and CEO Gary Kelly next year will step down as chief executive officer, and Southwest EVP of corporate services Robert Jordan will succeed him, the carrier announced.
Southwest’s CEO since 2004 and a Southwest employee for 35 years, Kelly officially will leave his role on Feb. 1, 2022, and become the executive chairman of Southwest’s board of directors. He intends to stay in that position at least through 2026, subject to the board’s annual elections, according to William Cunningham, the lead director for Southwest’s board.
Kelly leaves Southwest with a much broader network than when he took the helm, having led during the carrier’s acquisition of AirTran, expansion out of Dallas Love Field following repeal of the Wright Amendmentand the carrier’s first international service and service to Hawaii.
Jordan has been with Southwest nearly as long as Kelly, having joined the airline in 1988 and served in numerous executive positions over the subsequent decades, including VP of procurement, VP of technology, SVP of enterprise spend management and chief commercial officer. He led the AirTran acquisition as well as the development of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program and Southwest’s e-commerce platform via its website.
“Bob and I have worked side by side for more than 30 years,” Kelly said in a statement. “He is a gifted and experienced executive and well-prepared to take on this important role.”
Kelly, along with Southwest president Tom Nealon and COO Mike Van de Ven, will begin working on transition plans in the coming weeks, Kelly said.