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Sabre Ousts Chairman and Brings in Former Continental CEO

@denschaal

Sep 04, 2013 8:57 am

Skift Take

Sabre is smart to bring in Kellner and to make a break with the Gilliland era in taking steps toward an IPO. But, private company or not, Sabre handled the transition very clumsily.

— Dennis Schaal

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Sabre, the parent company of Travelocity, ousted Sam Gilliland as chairman, just a little more than two weeks after awkwardly transitioning him out of his CEO post.

The company appointed Larry Kellner, the former Continental Airlines chairman and CEO, as Sabre’s new board chairman, a nice addition as privately held Sabre considers an IPO, possibly in 2014. Sabre says Gilliland will stay on as a director.

Sabre’s decision to remove Gilliland from the chairman’s post comes after an August 15 press release, which announced the appointment of Tom Klein to succeed Gilliland as CEO. That same press release indeed said Gilliland would become a board member — and therefore would seemingly also be removed from his board chairmanship.

But, when Skift reported on August 15 that Gilliland was out as chairman, a Sabre spokesperson quickly emailed to say that the press release was wrong and that Gilliland would stay on as chairman.

And, now Gilliland is out as chairman, but will apparently remain on the board, although this could be a sign that he may be on his way out completely.

All of these moves occur as Sabre shed assets — Zuji, Travelocity Business, and Holiday Autos — and forged a shocking deal to downsize Travelocity and outsource its operations to Expedia.

Making a chairman out of Kellner, a 14-year veteran of Continental, currently the president of Emerald Creek Group and board member of Boeing, Chubb Corp., and Marriott, brings more credibility to Sabre’s IPO efforts.

Consider the timeline of these moves:

  • Gilliland was scheduled to give a CEO chat on August 14, which was abruptly canceled that morning.
  • Sabre names Klein the new CEO on August 15 and the press announcement says Gilliland will become a director.
  • Sabre clarifies that announcement shortly thereafter and says Gilliland will not merely be a director but will stay on as board chairman.
  • Sabre announces September 4 that Kellner will be chairman and Gilliland will stay on as a board member.

Sabre spokesperson Nancy St. Pierre says the company had been talking to Kellner at the time of the announcement that Klein would take over as CEO, but wasn’t prepared to announce Kellner’s new role at that juncture.

Gilliland had been chairman and CEO for around a decade. St. Pierre says Gilliland and Klein were both involved in the decision to separate the CEO and chairman’s roles in keeping with good governance practices.

“Sam is a very valuable member of Sabre and will remain so,” St. Pierre says.

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