Gordon Bethune

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Gordon Bethune
Born (1941-08-29) August 29, 1941 (age 76)
San Antonio, Texas
Alma mater Abilene Christian University, (B.S.)
Harvard Business School, (Adv. Mgt.)
Occupation Chief Executive Officer, Continental Airlines(1994-2004)
Vice President, Boeing, (1988-1994)
Vice President, Braniff, (1978-1982)
Sr. Vice President, Piedmont Airlines, (1984-1988)

Gordon M. Bethune (born August 29, 1941) is a retired US airline executive. He was the CEO of Continental Airlines from 1994 until his retirement at the end of 2004. He currently serves on the boards of Honeywell, Sprint, Prudential Financial.

Bethune holds a commercial pilot certificate with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3, Boeing 757, and Boeing 767. Bethune was known for ensuring that he received some time as pilot when taking delivery of a new Continental Airlines Boeing 767 from Boeing and repositioning it from Seattle to Houston. He also is a licensed Airframe and Power plant (A&P) mechanic.

Early life and US Navy service[edit]

Bethune was born in San Antonio, Texas to Pearl Elley and Jack Bethune, who was serving in the U.S. Army at that time. Bethune grew up in Austin, Texas and spent summers with his father, who owned an aerial crop dusting company, in Hernando, Mississippi. Bethune joined the U.S. Navy in 1958 at age 17, becoming an aviation electronics technician. In January 1960, he was serving in Heavy Attack Squadron 11 aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. He rose to the rank of chief petty officer, chief warrant officer, and over time received his commission as a Lieutenant. While in the Navy, Bethune married and fathered three sons, Xavier, Michael and Grady. In 1978, he retired with twin bars of a full lieutenant. His last duty station was with Patrol Squadron Nineteen (Big Red) stationed at Moffett Field, CA.

Early career[edit]

A Navy friend in 1978 asked whether Bethune would consider joining Braniff International Airways as a maintenance manager. He agreed, quickly working his way up to the position of the Vice President of Maintenance and Engineering.

In 1982 when Braniff closed, Western Airlines offered Bethune the post of Vice President of Engineering and Maintenance. He spent thirteen months with the carrier until receiving an offer from Piedmont Airlines to move from maintenance to operations. Bethune took on the role of Senior Vice President of Operations.

In 1984, Bethune earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Abilene Christian University. He went on to serve as Vice President and General Manager of The Boeing Company's Customer Services Division and later the Renton Division where he was responsible for production of the B737 and B757 airplanes. In that role he launched the new NextGen B737-700 and 737-800 airplanes.

Continental Airlines[edit]

When Bethune took over in 1994 as COO and President of Continental Airlines the troubled airline had twice faced bankruptcy and was again headed that direction. A search firm hired by Continental's board of directors suggested Bethune, who had recently completed an Advanced Management Course at the Harvard Business School, to salvage the company.

Bethune quickly made his mark on the carrier recognizing that a good airline was defined by customer satisfaction, not just cost per available seat mile. Bethune ascended to the role of CEO in November 1994, and was elected chairman of the board of directors in 1996.

Continental went from being ranked last in every measurable performance category to winning more J.D. Power and Associates awards for Customer Satisfaction than any other airline in the world. BusinessWeek magazine named Bethune one of the top 25 Global Managers in 1996 and 1997. Under his leadership Continental's stock price rose from $2 to over $50 per share. Fortune magazine named Continental among the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America for six consecutive years. In his final year piloting the airline Fortune magazine ranked Continental 2004's No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline, a title it earned again in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.[1]

Bethune released his book, From Worst to First: Behind the Scenes of Continental's Remarkable Comeback, in 1999 detailing his success at that carrier.[2]

Following his career with Continental, Bethune went on to serve as the non executive Chairman of the Board for the former Aloha Airlines]], He also was elected and served on the Board of Directors of Prudential Financial, Honeywell (where he was lead director), and currently at Sprint Corp and Park Hotels and Resorts where he serves as Lead Director. He continues to serve as a contributor for CNBC since he retired,

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1999, Gordon Bethune was the National Honorary Initiate of Delta Sigma Pi at the Grand Chapter Congress in Houston. In 2003 Bethune received the Tony Jannus Award for outstanding leadership in the Commercial Aviation industry.[3]

Bethune was honored with the 2006 Lloyd P. Nolen Lifetime Achievement in Aviation Award by the Wings over Houston Airshow. That award is given to individuals, organizations or companies dedicated to the advancement of aviation. Additionally he was recognized as one of the Top 25 Global Managers, BusinessWeek, 1996; Laureate in Aviation Trophy, National Air and Space Museum, 1997; 25 Most Influential Executives, Business Travel News, 1998, 2000; 50 Best CEOs in America, Worth, 2001, 2002, 2003; Airline Person of the Year, Travel Agent, 2001. The Wings Club New York City awarded him the Distinguished Achievement award in 2004.[4] The Navy League of New York presented him The Life Time achievement Award 2014 in NYC.

Bethune received the 2009 Philip J. Klass Award for Lifetime Achievement from Aviation Week & Space Technology. The award stated: " . . Bethune has spent a lifetime relentlessly searching for ways to make things work better . . has few rivals . . in both his achievements and his popularity with employees."[5]


  1. ^ "Gordon Bethune Profile, Biography, About". Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  2. ^ Bethune, Gordon, From Worst to First: Behind the scenes of Continental's remarkable comeback (ISBN 978-0471356523), Wiley & Sons, 1999.
  3. ^ Tony Jannus Awards
  4. ^ "Distinguished Achievement Awards". Wings Club. Retrieved February 9, 2012. 
  5. ^ Aviation Week & Space Technology 12 January 2009, "2009 Laureates", p. 57

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Robert Ferguson
CEO of Continental Airlines
1994 – 2004
Succeeded by
Larry Kellner