Praise for chairmen past, from AMR’s Crandall to Southwest’s Kelleher

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Kudos, or even kudoses. Well, several congratulations anyway. One to Herb (Kelleher, but he’s known by his first name almost universally). Herb stepped down as chairman of Southwest Airlines at its annual meeting the other day, and promptly ceded his title to the youngster who has taken his other past job, chief executive: That‘s Gary Kelly, who became chief executive 2004 in and will become president in July, when another one of Southwest’s icons, Colleen Barrett, retires form that post. The trio was effusive in their praise of each other. And Southwest pilots joined in the praise, lamenting the fact that they are negotiating their first contract without Herb.

The greatest compliment seemed to come from across town, though, from Gerard Arpey, the chief executive of American Airlines, which was also having its annual meeting. (Along with a protest from its pilots.) On the day after Southwest announced it was adding Denver flights, American announced major cuts, and including a 7% overall capacity cut that will park some 40 to 45 MD80s and 35 more RJs by the end of the year. And Arpey said of Kelleher that “Herb was one of the two people most responsible for the airline industry since deregulation.” The other, of course, was legendary American Airlines chairman Bob Crandall, who retired 10 years ago this month. As Arpey said, “I have gone up against Herb and often felt as if he had a gun and all’s I had was a knife.” Oh well, Gerard, all the better to cut with.

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