Southwest Airlines announced Tuesday that Tom Nealon, the airline’s executive vice president of strategy and innovation, will take over as president effective immediately.
The move lines up a successor to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, who has served in that role since 2004, and served as president since 2008.
Though the 61-year-old Kelly has indicated in the past that he is not planning on retiring or stepping down as CEO anytime soon, he relinquished the president’s role to Nealon after the move was approved by the company’s board of directors.
On a conference call on Tuesday, Kelly said the move was made to “adequately prepare for succession” and that “it is a great time to contemplate a change in our executive leadership.”
Kelly said that the move will mostly take shape in the future as he’s still “looking forward to serving Southwest for many years to come.”
“The bottom line ... is my role is essentially unchanged,” he added.
Nealon, who served as a member on Southwest’s board of directors from 2010 to 2015, and was chief information officer from 2002 to 2006, has also worked at Frito-Lay, J.C. Penney and The Feld Group, a consultancy.
Southwest on Tuesday also announced that its current chief operating officer, Mike Van de Ven, will also oversee customer support and services and hospitality duties on top of his current responsibilities. Van de Ven has worked in Southwest’s finance and operations departments for the past 23 years, most recently as executive vice president.
The airline also made other promotions on Tuesday, naming Greg Wells as its new executive vice president of daily operations, Andrew Watterson as its new senior vice president and chief revenue officer, and Steve Goldberg as its new senior vice president of ground operations and provisioning.
The moves were all made to “prepare for the future,” Kelly said. “We’ve got the right people to do that.”