DALLAS: Southwest Airlines has promoted Linda Rutherford to EVP of people and communications, effective immediately.
The promotion follows last week’s announcement that Southwest chairman and CEO Gary Kelly is planning to step down as CEO but remain as executive chairman. He will be succeeded by Robert Jordan, EVP of corporate services, effective next February.
Rutherford, who was named SVP and chief communications officer in 2017, will take on Jordan’s prior responsibilities, reporting directly to him, and will continue to serve as Southwest’s chief communications officer.
“I am excited to dig into this new role, which adds our human resources employee learning, training and leadership development and our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to my current responsibilities,” she said.
Rutherford will focus on the employee experience at Southwest. She stated that her priorities will include “staffing, winning the war for talent and continuing to modernize the technology platforms and systems that take the friction out of the employee experience.”
Rutherford’s direct reports will include VP and chief people officer Julie Weber, MD of communications and outreach Laurie Barnett; MD of culture and engagement Whitney Eichinger; VP of Southwest Airlines University Elizabeth Bryant; and director of DEI Raquel Daniels.
Rutherford joined Southwest in 1992 as a public relations coordinator. She began her career as a reporter, including a stint at the Dallas Times Herald. Rutherford was a member of PRWeek’s Champions of PR list in 2016.
In Q1 2021, Southwest recorded a profit of $116 million, assisted by $1.2 billion in extended Payroll Support Program federal aid to cover wages, salaries and benefits. Without those benefits, the carrier posted a net loss of $1 billion. The airline reported Q1 operating revenue of $2.1 billion, a decrease of 51.1% year over year.
In 2020, Southwest was hit with its first annual net loss since 1972, of $3.1 billion.