Facing investor criticism for having a too-insular board of directors, Southwest Airlines has added longtime airline executive Rakesh Gangwal to the group it believes will guide it back to “enduring profitability”.

Gangwal, co-founder of India’s InterGlobe Aviation – which operates under the IndiGo airline brand – has been appointed to Southwest’s board of directors, effective 7 July.

Board chair Gary Kelly hails Gangwal’s “decades of valuable experience as an executive and entrepreneur at some of the world’s leading airlines”.

Southwest Airlines

Source: Pittsburgh International airport

Southwest Airlines has added a longtime airline executive to bolster its board of directors amid criticism that its leadership team has become too insular 

Before co-founding IndiGo in 2006, Gangwal worked as chief executive of Worldspan Technologies, which supports the travel industry with technology and information services, and as CEO of US Airways Group.

“Rakesh’s expertise in travel technology will be valuable as we continue to make investments that support our operations and strategic initiatives,” Kelly says.

One of Southwest’s top investors called on the airline company last month to shake up its leadership team. Elliott Investment Management, which owns a 11% stake in Southwest, said in a 10 June letter that the carrier’s current position is defined by “a rigid commitment to an approach developed decades ago”.

Elliott calls specifically for Southwest to “enhance” its board with “truly independent directors from outside of Southwest”, bring in new senior leadership and undertake a comprehensive review of its business to “rapidly restore the company’s performance to best-in-class standards”.

Southwest fired back, maintaining that its board of directors is confident in Kelly and CEO Bob Jordan to lead the company forward.

”We are confident that Southwest Airlines has the right strategy, the right plan and the right team in place to drive long-term value for our shareholders,” Southwest said in response to Elliott’s critique.

Elliot said in an 8 July letter to Southwest’s board of directors that Gangwal was “chosen in part due to his support for the company’s status-quo leadership plan”. 

”These actions demonstrate how profoundly out of touch Southwest’s board has become with shareholder and sentiment and the reality of the situation”, the firm says. 

Southwest has appointed eight new directors to the board in the past eight years as part of “deliberate efforts to evolve its composition”.