ATLANTA -- Delta Air Lines chief executive Leo F. Mullin, who led the nation's third-largest airline through the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, a controversy over his pay and the still unresolved task of getting wage concessions from pilots, said on Monday he is leaving the company.
In move that caught Wall Street and Delta's pilots union by surprise, Mullin said he will step down after more than six years as chief executive on Jan. 1 and leave as chairman of the Atlanta-based airline's board after Delta's annual shareholders' meeting in late April.
The announcement comes as Delta is seeking wage concessions from its pilots, has warned of the possibility of further job cuts in addition to the 16,000 since Sept. 11, 2001, and is recovering from controversy over the compensation of top executives. Neither Mullin nor the board said how those issues factored in the decision.
Delta's board named Gerald Grinstein, a 16-year member of the board, as Mullin's replacement as CEO. It said John F. Smith Jr., a former chairman and CEO of General Motors Corp., would take over as chairman of the board in April.
According to a news release, Mullin's decision followed discussions he initiated with Delta's board earlier this year regarding his desire to retire. He is 60.
Mullin and the board finalized the move at a meeting Sunday.
"Delta is at a transition point between the good work of the past and the hard tasks ahead," Mullin said in a statement Monday. "This is a good time for me to move on to new challenges."
One of the hardest tasks he has faced in recent months is getting pilots to agree to deep wage cuts, concessions he has said the airline needs as part of its survival.
In a controversy about the compensation of top executives, it was revealed earlier this year that, amid the layoffs, a select group of executives including Mullin had received millions in company payments to a program to protect their pensions.
Grinstein, of Bellevue, Wash., has been on the Delta board since 1987, when the company acquired Western Air Lines in a merger. He was chief executive of Western at the time of the merger.
Delta offers 6,408 flights each day to 457 destinations in 82 countries on Delta, Song, Delta Shuttle, Delta Connection and Delta's worldwide partners.
A look at outgoing Delta CEO Leo F. Mullin's career
NAME: Leo F. Mullin.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: He has been chairman of Delta's board of Directors since Oct. 1999, and has served as Delta's chief executive officer since Aug 14., 1997. Mullin was vice chairman of Unicom Corp. and its principal subsidiary, Commonwealth Edison Co., from 1995 to 1997. He was an executive of First Chicago Corp. from 1981 to 1995, serving as that company's president and chief operating officer from 1993 to 1995.
AFFILIATIONS: Mullin also is a director of BellSouth Corp. and Johnson & Johnson. He is a member of the board of the Air Transport Association.
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