Meet Bob Jordan: Southwest's incoming CEO

Bob Jordan, who is replacing longtime chief executive Gary Kelly, will become the sixth CEO of Southwest Airlines

Incoming Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan will take over the Texas-based carrier and take on a slew of pandemic-related burdens on Tuesday. 

Jordan is replacing longtime chief executive Gary Kelly, who has led the airline since 2004, and will become the sixth CEO of Southwest. He will also join the board of directors. 

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Jordan is a veteran of the company, having joined Southwest in 1988. From there, Jordan climbed the ranks through a series of finance and strategy jobs, including overseeing the $1.4 billion acquisition of AirTran Airways in 2011.

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When announcing his replacement in June, Kelly commended Jordan, saying he is a "gifted and experienced executive and well-prepared to take on this important role." 

Bob Jordan, incoming chief commercial executive officer of Southwest Airlines

Bob Jordan, incoming chief commercial executive officer of Southwest Airlines Co., during an interview in New York on Sept. 24, 2021. (Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Jordan is taking over at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend the industry. Southwest had never lost money over an entire year in its half-century history until 2020, when it lost $3 billion. On top of that, thousands of employees left in 2020, creating staffing shortages that contributed to high numbers of canceled and delayed flights last summer and again in October. 

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Staffing issues persisted into the holidays, the busiest time for air travel, and through the start of 2022 due to a mix of bad weather and the rapid surge in omicron cases, which forced many employees to call out sick. 

Jordan told investors during the company's earnings call last week that in the first three weeks of the year the carrier had roughly "5,000 employees test positive for COVID, with employee cases roughly two and a half times what they were during the delta variant." 

And the variants aren't making his job any easier. Jordan predicted that the carrier won't be profitable in the first quarter as omicron, the most dominant variant in the United States, continues to spread. However, the carrier does expect to turn a profit for the remainder of the year. 

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Jordan told The Associated Press in a recent interview that 2022 will be a year of continued transition and that predicting business will be challenging. 

"You’ve got staffing questions, just the whole hiring market that everybody’s dealing with. You’ve got continued supply-chain issues. You have the pandemic, which we all hope moves to endemic here at some point," he said. 

Despite those obstacles, Jordan told customers in a note last week that he is honored to serve the company in this position and is ready for the job. 

"When I started as a Southwest programmer in 1988, I never dreamed this could be possible," he said. "It's an honor to serve you and our People; I'm humbled by the opportunity, ready for the job and excited about what's ahead for our great Company." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.