Brett Hart has taken the helm of United Airlines after the sudden heart attack of Oscar Munoz, who took over after the abrupt departure of Jeff Smisek. Smisek suddenly resigned his post as CEO, along with a handful of other top executives, amid a criminal probe into his possible connection with attempts to influence elected officials in New Jersey.
With three CEOs in three months, the situation with top management at United Airlines is looking a little uncertain. To try and clear up some of the confusion, we put together a list of some essential facts regarding the acting CEO, Brett Hart.
1. He may not be going anywhere any time soon.
Oscar Munoz has suffered what appears to be a fairly serious heart attack, and has made no public statements. In fact, no updates on his current health conditions or how long he is expected to be out have been made at all. That means that United employees really have no idea if Munoz is coming back soon, or never.
If Munoz ends up not returning, it’s easy to imagine Hart staying in his new position for a long time.
2. He may not be staying long.
Hart may start facing some of the same corruption questions that forced Smisek out. We know that he was present during at least one meeting between United and the disgraced New Jersey Port Authority, and that he was close to some of the United executives who were forced to resign. So far, he is not being accused of anything outright, and it is unclear whether or not he is the subject of any formal investigation. But.
As the top lawyer for United Airlines, Hart was involved in many of the negotiations regarding the Port Authority of New Jersey and United Airlines. These negotiations included possible bribery on the part of United Airlines senior management, with the aim of reducing flight fees charged to the airline, among other accusations.
An agreement with the Port Authority was reached in November of 2013, as described in an email from Nene Foxhall (who was forced to resign from United Airlines) which read, "Thanks for meeting with Brett and me last week. We are grateful to the Port Authority leadership for being willing to address the long standing inequity in flight fees..."
The day after the meeting between Brett Hart, Foxhall and the Port Authority, the parties announced that United would begin offering flights to Atlantic City New Jersey.
Although anything can happen, it is not hard to imagine a situation where this legal scrutiny strains the patience of United Leadership and investors.
3. He’s the former Executive Vice President of Sara Lee, and employees there didn’t really like management very much, but they didn’t hate their jobs, either.
According to Indeed.com and GlassDoor.com, two employment review websites, the management at Sara Lee over the past few years is a mixed bag. As of October, GlassDoor.com was reporting a company troubled by low pay, poor morale, and generally poor management. Of 315 total reviews describing issues such as wages, working conditions and morale, there are few positive reviews of Sara Lee management. In addition, one plant (that was recently closed) was the subject of a racial discrimination lawsuit, which alleged that black employees were made to work the least safe areas of the facility.
On the other hand, it’s hard to blame Hart for a lot of these problems. After all, Sara Lee was a company with serious issues, and was eventually bought out. Additionally, despite some grumbling, most employees seemed to like the job itself, which led to an overall employee rating of “3.3 Stars” for Sara Lee. United also gets a 3.3 Stars rating with Glass Door.