Jeff Smisek

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Jeff Smisek
Smisek, Jeff.jpg
Born Jeffery Alan Smisek
1954 (age 61–62)[1]
Alma mater Princeton University, (BA)
Harvard Law School, (JD)
Occupation Former Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, United Airlines
Spouse(s) Diana Strassmann[2]

Jeffery Alan "Jeff" Smisek (born 1954) is an American businessman who was the chairman, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of United Airlines in the period prior to September 2015.

Early life and education[edit]

Smisek was born into a Jewish family in 1954,[1] and graduated from Princeton University, AB summa cum laude in Economics, in 1976. After enrolling in a PhD program in Economics at MIT, Smisek dropped out and worked in banking until he matriculated at Harvard Law School and obtained a JD magna cum laude, in 1982.[citation needed]


Prior to his role at United, Smisek was chairman, president and CEO of Continental Airlines, which merged with United in 2010. Previously a partner at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins, Smisek joined Continental in 1995 as senior vice president and general counsel. In 2004, he became president and was elected to the company's board of directors. He became chief operating officer in September 2008.[3] In 2014 Smisek was elected Chairman of the Board of Airlines for America.[4] Smisek serves on the board of directors of National Oilwell Varco, Inc. and the board of trustees of Rice University. In addition, he serves on the board of governors of the International Air Transport Association.[5]

In 2013 and 2014, Smisek was criticized for United's poor customer service and employee dissatisfaction,[6][7] problems with the integration of Continental[8] and severe quarterly losses of $609 million. There was also a reduction of the performance-based part of Smisek's pay from $3.5 million to $1.25 million.[9]

Following a strategy of cost cuts, share buybacks and conservative expansion of capacities, one commentator concluded that Smisek had regained the trust of Wall Street analysts by late 2014.[8]


Smisek resigned from his positions as chairman, president, and CEO at United on September 8, 2015 due to accusations of attempts to influence officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.[10] This came after a government probe in February 2015,[11] which caused United to start an internal investigation. United Airlines had an uneconomic twice-weekly flight from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina known as "chairman’s flight"[12] during the Port Authority chairmanship of David Samson, who has a vacation home there.[13] Smisek left United Airlines with a severance payment worth at least $8.4 million, according to regulatory filings.[14] Oscar Munoz replaced Smisek as United Continental CEO.[15][16]

Awards and honors[edit]

Smisek was named Aviation Week's Person of the Year for 2010.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Smisek is married and has two children.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Jeffery Alan Smisek". Marquis Who's Who. Retrieved January 20, 2015.  (requires purchase for access).
  2. ^ Gregory, Karp (October 31, 2011). "United Continental's CEO has a daunting challenge before him". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Jeff Smisek Biography[dead link], United Continental Holdings, Inc. website.
  4. ^ Karp, Gregory (December 2, 2014). "United CEO Smisek to chair Airlines for America trade group". Chicago Tribune. 
  5. ^ United Continental Holdings, Inc. - Investor Relations - Biography
  6. ^ Fagen, David (May 2, 2014). "Why United's Jeff Smisek Is Perhaps the Worst CEO in the Business". Huffington Post. 
  7. ^ "Viewers' nominations for worst CEO of 2013". CNBC. December 10, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Cahill, Joe (November 22, 2014). "United's Smisek back in analysts' good graces". Crain's Chicago Business. 
  9. ^ Knight, Meribah (April 25, 2014). "United cuts Smisek's pay by 16%". Crain's Chicago Business. 
  10. ^ Mouawad, Jad (September 8, 2015). "United Airlines Ousts Chief Over Corruption Investigation". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-08. 
  11. ^ Boburg, Shawn (February 20, 2015). "United Airlines and employees subpoenaed in probe involving ex-Port Authority Chairman David Samson",
  12. ^ Jonathan Chew, Everything to know about United's departing CEO September 9, 2015
  13. ^ Harwell, Drew (September 8, 2015). "United Airlines chief to step down amid federal investigation", Washington Post
  14. ^ Jeff Smisek's United golden parachute: At least $8.4 million Chicago Tribune
  15. ^ Jones, Charisse (September 8, 2015). "United names new CEO in wake of internal inquiry", USA Today.
  16. ^ United Continental Holdings, Inc. (September 8, 2015). "United Airlines Names Oscar Munoz Chief Executive Officer", press release via
  17. ^ Aviation Week (January 3, 2011). "Aviation Week Names United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek Person of the Year", press release via PR Newswire.
Preceded by
Glenn Tilton
CEO of United Airlines
2010 – 2015
Succeeded by
Oscar Munoz
Preceded by
Larry Kellner
CEO of Continental Airlines
Succeeded by
Incumbent; merged with United Airlines