United’s PR Chief Leaves as the Company Buys Back $3 Billion in Shares

Dec 8, 2017

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Almost eight months after the disastrous Dr. Dao incident that led to the Bumpgate public relations nightmare for United Airlines, the company’s PR chief has quit.

According to Bloomberg, Jim Olson sent out a letter to employees notifying of his resignation which will be effective January 8. Olson, a former Starbucks executive and the current SVP of corporate communications for United, worked for the airline for two years and was brought in during a time of upheaval at the company.

This news comes on the same day that United announced it would be buying back $3 billion of its shares from investors — that’s about 17 percent of the company’s value. The airline purchased $2 billion of its in own shares in July of 2016.

“We continue to invest in our employees, our customer experience and the growth of our business. Returning cash to our shareholders reflects the strength of our balance sheet and the confidence we have in our future,” said Andrew Levy, executive vice president and chief financial officer of United Airlines.

United’s lagged behind rivals American and Delta in terms of profit margin, and its shares have fallen 11% so far in 2017. American Airlines shares have risen 11% in the same time and Delta’s 9%.

Olson came on after United CEO Jeff Smisek, resigned following a corruption scandal involving New York and New Jersey’s Port Authority. Smisek was succeeded by Oscar Munoz, whose comments immediately following Dr. Dao being dragged off a United aircraft were widely condemned in the press and on social media. That debacle came after Leggingsgate, which had the airline defending its dress code. Olson’s time was also characterized by a battle in United’s boardroom that had hedge funds competing over control of the company.

United said it’s currently looking for a replacement for Olson.

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