United Continental Holdings Inc.'s new chief executive, in his first communication to employees, promised to meet with as many workers as possible and "hear about operations directly from you," a sharp contrast with ousted predecessor Jeff Smisek that drew cheers from investors and unions on Wednesday.
Oscar Munoz, who took over as chief executive on Tuesday, made the comments in a letter to United's 84,000 employees, suggesting a new focus at the world's second-largest airline that many thought would lead to better financial and operational performance.
Separately, acting Chief Financial Officer Gerry Laderman said at an investor conference on Wednesday that United was on track to save $1 billion in annual non-fuel costs by next year and would complete a $1 billion share buyback ahead of schedule.
Smisek and two other senior UAL executives left United on Tuesday as a result of a federal probe involving the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
United said Smisek could not be reached for comment.
Munoz, 56, is stepping down from his job as chief operating officer of railroad company CSX Corp., where he was credited with improving operations and service.
Munoz "helped transform the railroad into an industry leader in customer focus, reliability and financial performance," said CRT Capital Group analyst Michael Derchin. "These are major priorities for UAL, in our opinion."
Analysts were also pleased that the new CEO was familiar with the airline from his long service on United's board.
"We believe Mr. Munoz already knows the inherent potential and key investor concerns regarding the company," said Evercore ISI analyst Duane Pfennigwerth. "We were encouraged to hear him speak directly to the integration challenges that United has faced and improving customer service as a priority."
Smisek, who took over in 2010 as United merged with Continental Airlines, had a poor relationship with United's thousands of union employees and union leaders, analysts and union leaders said.
Workers protested at shareholders meetings and called for his ouster over the failure to reach combined labor contracts for flight attendants and mechanics.
Under Smisek, United lagged on financial and operational performance, was dogged by computer outages and recently posted the worst on-time record among major U.S. carriers.
In February, the carrier said it had opened an internal investigation into its relationship with David Samson, a former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, after it learned of a federal probe.