Delta names Richard Anderson as CEO

The airline company names the board director as its new chief executive after the closing bell.

NEW YORK ( -- Delta Air Lines Inc. on Tuesday named board member and industry veteran Richard Anderson the airline's new chief executive.

Anderson, currently a senior executive at UnitedHealth Group Inc. and a former CEO of Northwest Airlines Corp., succeeds Gerald Grinstein, 75, who turned Delta around from bankruptcy and had already announced plans to retire.

Anderson's appointment as Delta's (Charts, Fortune 500) chief, which takes effect Sept. 1, stoked speculation that Delta, the No. 3 U.S. airline, and Northwest, No. 5, could join forces. But Anderson said in a conference call there are no plans for a merger between the two.

Anderson, 52, has been president of UnitedHealth Group's (Charts, Fortune 500) commercial services unit since 2006. He joined UnitedHealth after a 14-year career with Northwest (Charts, Fortune 500), which emerged from bankruptcy this past spring.

Grinstein preferred a choice from Delta's executive team that helped in the recent turnaround. But the board went in another direction.

"After a thorough search, the board concluded that Richard Anderson possesses the right blend of seasoned leadership, strategic skills, international experience and airline knowledge the company needs to navigate the industry's challenges and capitalize on its opportunities," said Daniel Carp, chairman of Delta's board.

Northwest operates major overseas passenger and cargo routes, especially to Asia. Delta hopes to expand that business under Anderson, including new service to China.

The top in-house Delta candidates were Ed Bastian, chief financial officer and Jim Whitehurst, the chief operating officer. Bastian will move to president. Whitehurst's future is unclear. Anderson said he had not yet talked with Whitehurst.

After being passed over for the CEO job, analysts expect Whitehurst, who is credited with spearheading the airline's customer service and international expansion strategies, to leave the company.

"Whether he's gone today or tomorrow, he's gone," said Jeremy Garlington, publisher of executive leadership forum The Garlington Report, reported Tuesday. A Delta spokeswoman and Whitehurst declined to comment late Tuesday.

Shares of Delta (up $1.63 to $17.71, Charts, Fortune 500) sank nearly 3 percent in after-hours trading Tuesday after jumping more than 10 percent on the New York Stock Exchange earlier in the day.

-- from staff and wire reports Top of page