Jeff Smisek

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Jeff Smisek
Smisek, Jeff.jpg
Jeffery Alan Smisek

(1954-08-17) August 17, 1954 (age 66)[1]
Alma materPrinceton University (A.B.)
Harvard Law School (J.D.)
OccupationChief Executive Officer, United Airlines, (2010-2015)
Chief Executive Officer, Continental Airlines, (2010)
President, Continental Airlines, (2004-2010)
Chief Operating Officer, Continental Airlines, (2008-2010)
PredecessorLarry Kellner (Continental Airlines)
Glenn Tilton (United Airlines)
SuccessorOscar Munoz
Spouse(s)Diana Strassmann[2]

Jeffery Alan "Jeff" Smisek (born 17 August 1954) is an American businessman and investor who currently serves on the board of trustees of Rice University[3] and on the board of directors of Finch Therapeutics.[4][5] Smisek previously worked in the airline industry as the chairman, president, and chief executive officer (CEO) of Continental Airlines and, later, of United Airlines.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Smisek was born in 1954.[1] His father, Raymond, was a World War II bomber pilot.[7] His mother, Betty, was a big-band singer with the USO.[7] Smisek grew up on military bases around the United States and Europe until his parents permanently moved to San Antonio in 1963.[8] Smisek graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. in economics from Princeton University in 1976 after completing a 74-page long senior thesis titled "Zoning and Non-Zoning in the Urban Property Market: An Empirical Study of Princeton, New Jersey."[9] He received a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1982.[10][11]


Before leaving the airline industry in 2015, Smisek spent the bulk of his career in leadership positions at Continental Airlines (1995-2010) and United Airlines (2010-2015).

Continental Airlines[edit]

Smisek was a partner at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, Texas, but in 1995 was persuaded by Continental's then-CEO Gordon Bethune to join Continental as general counsel to help reverse the ailing airline's fortunes. When he joined Continental, Smisek joined a carrier that was running out of cash and hurting from a work slowdown by its pilots and poor service delivered by dispirited workers who were scarred by two trips through bankruptcy.[7] Smisek's first task at Continental was to convince financiers to let it break leases on its Airbus A300 fleet, which were bleeding the airline dry.[12] Rather than dumping the unwanted planes on the leasing companies, Smisek found other takers for the aircraft.[12] Smisek became one of the chief architects of Continental's dramatic turnaround. Bethune once told USA Today that Smisek was the airline’s savior. “It’s not like in the movies when some guy saves an airplane from spinning to Earth...But he engineered the salvation of our company.”[13] In 2004, Smisek became president and was elected to Continental's board of directors. He became chief operating officer in September 2008 and CEO in January 2010.[7][14]

United Airlines[edit]

As a wave of consolidation hit the airline industry in 2008, Smisek led negotiations to merge Continental with United Airlines.[7] The two airlines merged in October 2010, keeping the United name, and Smisek became president, CEO and, eventually, chairman of the board. Smisek oversaw the complex merger, which sought to combine route networks, negotiate new contracts with its employee groups, and merge and update disparate IT systems.[15] From 2010 to 2015, Smisek tripled the value of United's stock.[16][17] Difficulties stemming from the merger of United and Continental led to initial complaints over customer service and employee satisfaction[18][19] and problems with the integration of Continental.[20] By late 2014 Smisek had regained the trust of Wall Street analysts after a strategy of cost cuts, share buybacks and conservative expansion of capacities.[20] Smisek resigned from United on September 8, 2015 following accusations that the airline had attempted to influence officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.[6] Smisek was never charged with wrongdoing[21] and instead Port Authority Chairman David Samson was convicted of a felony for impeding an airport project to coerce United Airlines to fly to an airport in South Carolina, near a home that he owned.[22] Smisek left United Airlines with a severance payment worth $28.8 million.[23]

Finch Therapeutics[edit]

In February 2017, Smisek led a $5.6 million Series A financing of Finch Therapeutics,[4] a clinical-stage microbiome therapeutics company.[24] Smisek also joined the board[4] of the company which, later in 2017, began a collaboration with Takeda,[25] merged with Crestovo,[26] and in 2018 completed a $36 million Series B financing.[27]

Awards and honors[edit]

Smisek was named Aviation Week's Person of the Year for 2010.[28]

Personal life[edit]

Smisek is married to Diana Strassmann, an American economist, and has two children.[14]


  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. ^ "Board of Trustees | Office of the President | Rice University". Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  4. ^ a b c "Finch Therapeutics Announces Strategic Collaboration with OpenBiome to Develop Microbiome Therapies for FDA Approval". 2017-02-23. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  5. ^ "SEC FORM D". Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  6. ^ a b Mouawad, Jad (September 8, 2015). "United C.E.O. Is Out Amid Inquiry at Port Authority". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-09-08.
  7. ^ a b c d e Johnsson, Julie (2010-10-03). "United Airlines' new CEO has lofty goals and quite a reputation". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  8. ^ "Obituary - Betty D. (Willoughby) Smisek".
  9. ^ Smisek, Jeffrey Alan (1976). "Zoning and Non-Zoning in the Urban Property Market: An Empirical Study of Princeton, New Jersey". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ reporter, Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune. "Executive profile: Jeff Smisek". Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  11. ^ "United Continental Holdings, Inc. - Investor Relations - Biography". 2014-12-09. Archived from the original on 2014-12-09. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  12. ^ a b Johnsson, Julie (2010-10-03). "United Airlines' new CEO has lofty goals and quite a reputation". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  13. ^ "Everything to Know About United's Departing CEO". Fortune. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  14. ^ a b Jeff Smisek Biography, United Continental Holdings, Inc. website.
  15. ^ Karp, Gregory. "Jeff Smisek's turbulent tenure at United". Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  16. ^ "Stock Chart". United Continental Holdings, Inc. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  17. ^ Josephs, Leslie. "If United is so hopeless, why has its stock tripled in the past five years?". Quartz. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  18. ^ Fagen, David (May 2, 2014). "Why United's Jeff Smisek Is Perhaps the Worst CEO in the Business". Huffington Post.
  19. ^ "Viewers' nominations for worst CEO of 2013". CNBC. December 10, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  20. ^ a b Cahill, Joe (November 22, 2014). "United's Smisek back in analysts' good graces". Crain's Chicago Business.
  21. ^ Zumbach, Lauren. "Ex-Port Authority chair pleads guilty to bribing United to reinstate flight". Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  22. ^ McGeehan, Patrick (2017-03-06). "David Samson, a Christie Ally, Is Sentenced to Home Confinement". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  23. ^ CalebMelby, Caleb Melby. "Ex-United CEO Has to Cooperate to Keep $29 Million Severance". Retrieved 2016-08-31.
  24. ^ "Finch Therapeutics Expands Its Leading Microbiome IP Estate with Six New Patents". Finch. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  25. ^ "BRIEF-Finch Therapeutics, Takeda collaborate to develop microbiome..." Reuters. 2017-04-05. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  26. ^ "Finch Therapeutics and Crestovo Announce Merger to Form Finch Therapeutics Group, a Leading, Fully Integrated Microbiome Company". 2017-10-23. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  27. ^ "Finch Therapeutics Group Raises $36 Million in Series B Financing". 2018-03-01. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  28. ^ Aviation Week (January 3, 2011). "Aviation Week Names United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek Person of the Year", press release via PR Newswire.
Business positions
Preceded by
Glenn Tilton
CEO of United Airlines
2010 – 2015
Succeeded by
Oscar Munoz
Preceded by
Larry Kellner
CEO of Continental Airlines
2010 – 2012
Position abolished; merged with United Airlines