JetBlue Names New President as CEO Shifts to Long-Term Strategy

(Bloomberg) -- JetBlue Airways Corp. is promoting Joanna Geraghty to president, tasking her with running day-to-day operations while freeing up Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes to focus on long-term planning.

Geraghty, 45, will also oversee the airline’s commercial team, JetBlue said in a statement Friday. Hayes, 51, will manage efforts to improve profit margins and the company’s expansion into related travel and vacation businesses.

Geraghty will take over as JetBlue’s No. 2 executive as the New York-based airline faces a raft of other changes. The New York-based airline is nearing a decision on whether to expand service across the Atlantic Ocean, while also working through a cost-cutting program and contending with the unionization of two critical work groups: pilots and flight attendants.

“It certainly makes sense,” Susan Donofrio, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd., said of the management shift. “If anything, it adds more to the credibility of the company because they are thinking about the longer-term plan.”

JetBlue fell 1 percent to $19.12 at 2:52 p.m. in New York amid declines in other U.S. airline stocks. The shares dropped 14 percent this year through Thursday, while a Standard & Poor’s index of the five biggest U.S. airlines declined 12 percent.

Highest-Ranking Woman

The promotion makes Geraghty, who will also be JetBlue’s chief operating officer, the highest-ranking woman at a large U.S. airline. Tammy Romo serves as chief financial officer at Southwest Airlines Co. and several other women hold executive vice president titles at other carriers. Colleen Barrett was Southwest’s president and chief operating officer from 2001 to 2004.

Geraghty joined JetBlue in 2005 and most recently served as executive vice president for customer experience. She was vice president, chief people officer from 2010 to 2014 and vice president and associate general counsel before that.

She previously shared responsibility for groups involved in running the airline with Jeff Martin, executive vice president of operations. Martin will become a senior adviser, helping with transition following the management change, JetBlue said Friday. Marty St. George, executive vice president for commercial and planning, will report to Geraghty under the new system.

“A lot of thought was given to the power of having everybody under one umbrella, along with the commercial team, at the core airline,” Doug McGraw, a JetBlue spokesman, said in an interview.

The company also announced the retirement of James Hnat, the longtime general counsel, corporate secretary and executive vice president for corporate affairs.

‘Succession Planning’

Hayes was named president of JetBlue in 2014 and added the chief executive title a year later. In addition to long-range strategic planning, he will focus on ventures similar to JetBlue Travel Products, which was designed to move the carrier into travel and hospitality ventures.

“You have seen at other airlines that the president is next in line to be CEO, so it provides a little more clarity into the succession planning,” said Joe DeNardi, a Stifel Financial Corp. analyst. “I don’t think it says much about when Robin may be looking to step down.”

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