Delta’s New Chief Operating Officer Has No Airline Experience

Delta Air Lines has this week appointed a new senior executive, who seems like a surprising pick…

Mike Spanos appointed as Delta Chief Operating Officer

Mike Spanos has been appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Delta, and he’ll begin his new role as of June 12, 2023.

For some background, Spanos spent more than 25 years working in leadership roles at PepsiCo and the Pepsi Bottling Group, including having regional executive roles across the United States, Turkey, China, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, being President and CEO at PepsiCo International sectors, and being Chief Customer Officer at Pepsi Beverages North America. More recently, Spanos was President and CEO at Six Flags Entertainment.

Delta claims that Spanos shares the company’s “values of servant leadership and always putting people first.” Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, Allison Ausband, and Chief of Operations, John Laughter, will report to Spanos, who will report directly to CEO Ed Bastian.

Here’s how Bastian described Spanos in a memo to employees:

“The experience and perspective Mike brings to Delta will enhance and accelerate the integration across our operational, customer experience and technology teams, aligning them to deliver an unsurpassed product and service for our customers and our employees.”

Meanwhile here’s what Spanos said about his new role:

“The Delta people are the best in the business. I’m looking forward to getting started, visiting the operation and rolling up my sleeves to enable our team to do what they do every day: run the world’s best airline for our customers.”

Delta has appointed a new Chief Operating Officer

I’m curious to see how this goes…

Airlines often go to one of two extremes when it comes to hiring for senior positions — sometimes they hire people who have been at the company for decades, while other times they hire people who have never even worked in the industry.

I can of course see the merit to both of those — it’s good to reward those who been loyal to the company for a long time and have a track record of success, and other times it’s good to get a fresh perspective on things from an outsider.

I will say, however, that at this point in Delta’s history, I do find it a bit odd to hire a COO with no airline experience. This comes at a time when Delta has been struggling operationally more than pre-pandemic. Both the beverage and theme park business are vastly different than the airline business. And while many skills and concepts of course transfer between industries, the airline industry is particularly complex.

I suppose his lack of airline experience isn’t an issue as long as he has good people reporting to him, who do have a lot of airline experience (and that seems to be the case). But it also reminds me of how a new United MileagePlus CEO was recently appointed, who previously worked at Comcast. Because, you know, no one knows how to keep customers loyal quite like cable companies.

Is this a good time to hire someone with no airline experience?

Bottom line

Delta has hired a new Chief Operating Officer with no airline experience, who previously worked at Six Flags and PepsiCo. This is an interesting choice, given the complexity of the airline industry, and also the operational challenges that Delta has faced in recent times. We’ve seen quite some shifts in senior management at Delta since the start of the pandemic, though I find this to be one of the more unusual new appointments.

What do you make of Delta’s choice for a new COO?

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