And He Wasn't Thrilled About It
It's no surprise to hear that JetBlue Airways founder and former
CEO David Neeleman wasn't exactly thrilled when the airline's board
of directors forced him to give up that title in May, less than
three months after a series of weather-related operations snafus
shut down the carrier for days... and he blames those storms for
the board's decision.
In an interview with CNN Money, a candid Neeleman (above) says
he feels he'd still be holding the reins at the low-cost carrier if
not for a Valentine's Day ice storm that brought the airline's
operations to a screeching, sliding halt for days.
"Obviously, when you found a company, and you're the visionary
and you start it from Day 1, no one really wants to give up the
reins," Neeleman said, adding he feels his "abrupt" ousting was "a
traumatic thing for a company."
Again, that's hardly breaking news. What it is, however, is a
far more candid summary of the events of May 10, when the airline
announced Neeleman would cede the CEO spot to the airline's Chief
Operating Officer, Dave Barger. Former FAA exec Russell Chew filed
Barger's former role.
Neither side attempted to hide the fact Neeleman had been
forcibly removed from his spot, although everyone involved tried to
paint it as a mutual decision.
"This is a natural evolution of our leadership structure as
JetBlue continues to grow," Neeleman said at that time, as reported by ANN. Neeleman
retained his title as Chairman of the airline.
In the months since the reorganization, Neeleman has sold 23
percent of his stock in the airline, or 2.5 million shares. "It's
something I should have done a long time ago," he said, as it freed
up some of his net worth, and allowed him to eliminate some margin
loans in the process.
Neeleman says he remains highly committed to -- and visible at
-- the airline he founded in 1998.
"I'm there (at the company's offices) a lot. Our management team
and our leadership want me to be," he said. "I'm the largest
non-institutional shareholder. It's my great desire for the company
And while he remains diplomatic about the subject, one gets the
impression Neeleman feels he was handed a raw deal -- if not by the
board, per se, then definitely by Mother Nature.
"That's a difficult question to answer, but I think probably,"
Neeleman said, when asked if he believes the airline's February
weather woes, and following service difficulties, led to his
removal. "It's tough to put Humpty Dumpty back on the wall and say
what would have happened if it hadn't been broken."
Approximately 1,700 JetBlue flights were cancelled in the days
following the February 14 storm, leaving thousands of passengers
stranded as JetBlue struggled to redistribute its fleet. The
airline promised change, even drafting a "customer bill of rights"
and promising vouchers for delayed customers... which the carrier
was then forced to make good on, when a St. Patrick's Day storm
once again caught the carrier flatfooted.
Neeleman issued a series of apologies for his airline's
failures, saying he was "humiliated and mortified" by the routing
issues. He even went on the David Letterman show, to appeal to