Skift Take

Sabre's stock price is down 64 percent since the pandemic hit. To rebound, the travel tech company needs a better understanding of what its travel management customers need. Kurt Ekert can deliver that intel.

Travel technology company Sabre said Wednesday it will strip president and CEO Sean Menke’s title of president and assign it to an external hire. Kurt Ekert, formerly president and CEO of business travel management company CWT (Carlson Worldwide Travel), will become Sabre’s president on January 3, reporting to Menke.

Menke will focus on speeding up the execution company’s plans to tighten and strengthen its business.

“[Kurt Ekert] brings extensive global operating leadership and a deep understanding of the travel technology ecosystem,” Menke said in a statement. “Kurt’s disciplined and accountable approach coupled with his understanding of what our customers need in an evolving marketplace make him an ideal individual to step into this leadership role.”

Ekert recently led CWT for five years where he oversaw a digital transformation, claiming $7 billion in new business wins. Ekert previously worked at Travelport, Sabre’s smaller rival in airline distribution, as executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

One of Ekert’s major accomplishments at CWT was improving its ground game in hotel distribution, an area Sabre could also use help with.

Ekert abruptly left the role of CEO at CWT in April, when the company promoted its president and chief financial officer to the role. A few years ago, Ekert spoke with Skift about his business philosophy.

In another change, Dave Shirk, who had been Menke’s number two at Sabre and the leader of the company’s distribution and airline services units, “has elected to step down” to a senior advisor role.

Splitting the role of CEO and president at a technology company is somewhat unusual. It’s possible that Sabre felt it needed both Menke’s and Ekert’s complementary expertise but neither could handle a lesser title than either president or CEO.

Ekert’s offer letter states that if and when the CEO position next becomes available and Sabre doesn’t give it to him he can quit with a happy severance package and no penalty.

Ekert’s base annual salary will be $750,000. He’ll have eligibility for an annual bonus of $937,500, an equity grant valued at $1 million, eligibility for an equity grant of $3 million around March, and eligibility for additional grants and other incentive offerings as potential additional benefits if certain conditions are met in the coming years. He’ll also get an annual expense fund of up to $13,000. He’ll get 25 days paid-time-off in holidays plus the company’s standard holidays.

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Tags: ceos, leadership, sabre, travel technology

Photo credit: Kurt Ekert, shown speaking when he was CEO and president of CWT. Source: CWT.

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