Starbucks' Jim Olson takes top comms job at United Airlines

He will oversee a broad scope of internal and external communications. Previously, Olson worked at Starbucks since 2011.

Jim Olson (Source: PRNewsFoto/United Airlines)
Jim Olson (Source: PRNewsFoto/United Airlines)

CHICAGO: United Airlines has hired Jim Olson as SVP of corporate communications, effective February 1.

Reporting to Michael Bonds, United’s EVP of HR and labor relations, Olson will relocate with his family from Seattle to Chicago for the role. The number of employees he will oversee has not been determined.

Olson’s remit will include a broad scope of internal and external comms responsibilities. He said he will focus on media relations, industry analyst engagement, employee engagement, and handling the company’s corporate reputation.

Olson added that, as a storyteller at heart, he is excited about the opportunities he will have from a storytelling and comms standpoint, both internally and externally.

"United Airlines has a new CEO [Oscar Munoz] who has been out on medical but coming in shortly, so I am looking forward to giving his vision the visibility it deserves," Olson said. "I am also excited about giving employees the recognition they deserve. They are doing innovative work on elevating the customer experience."

Munoz has been on medical leave since suffering a heart attack in October and is expected to return to the job at the end of the first quarter. Brett Hart has taken over as interim CEO until his return.

Olson will join United from Starbucks, where he serves as VP of global corporate communications. Since 2011, Olson has led Starbucks’ corporate news agenda and brand protection capability. He also architected Starbucks' next-generation digital news and employee-storytelling platform and orchestrated public affairs for the company's Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions.

Olson is replacing David Messing, who was VP of corporate comms at United. He retired from the role in early October, said Megan McCarthy, United’s MD of external communications.

In September, United Continental EVP of communications and government affairs Irene Foxhall and SVP of corporate and government affairs Mark Anderson left the company amid a federal probe into its relationship with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Corey duBrowa, SVP of global communications at the coffee brand, said Olson "has played an invaluable role at Starbucks during his five years at the company."

"He will be much missed, both for the high standard of his work, and also for his kind, engaging, team-first approach," he said. "For those of you who know him well, you already understand that this is a dream job for him and that United Airlines already became immeasurably more talented the moment he agreed to take on the role." 

Starbucks has begun an external search process for Olson’s replacement, said duBrowa. Olson will depart the company on January 29.

Prior to Starbucks, Olson was US Airways’ VP of corporate communications. He led the airline's internal, external, and crisis communications functions, including managing the response to the 2009 Hudson River emergency water landing of Flight 1549. Previously, he was an SVP in Waggener Edstrom's digital strategies group in Seattle.

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