Leading Change: How Alaska Airlines Took Over an Industry Darling

11 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2019 Last revised: 1 Mar 2019

See all articles by June West

June West

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Shea Gibbs

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Abstract

Alaska Airlines (Alaska) acquired the small but sleek and much beloved Virgin America (Virgin) at the end of 2016. Alaska's executives had to set a strategy to take all the good in Virgin, integrate it into the larger company, and present the unified commercial carrier in a digestible way to its customers and affected employees. But taking over Virgin's fleet and operations without keeping its brand meant Alaska was going to feel blowback from the many Virgin fans in the Pacific Northwest and beyond when it subsumed its competitor.Systems guru Sandy Stelling and her leadership team—a carefully selected group of seven subject-matter experts, most of them women—were tasked with guiding Alaska through the trickiest part of the integration process: turning off the lights on Virgin's passenger service system (PSS) and merging all the data into Alaska's PSS. When the dust settled on the PSS integration, customers would no longer see any trace of Virgin's brand online, in airports, or when contacting call centers. The PSS integration was the highest-risk portion of the merger. Communicating exactly what Alaska planned to do and how—both to its customers and internal stakeholders—was critical. To make matters worse, executives were asking Stelling and her team to perform the integration faster than any airline had ever done it.If the company didn't perform the PSS integration flawlessly, Alaska risked wasting considerable time responding to bad press, infighting, and fixing mistakes. How would Stelling and her team make sure they did their job right?

Excerpt

UVA-BC-0268

Rev. Feb. 25, 2019

Leading Change: How Alaska Airlines Took Over an Industry Darling

Sandy Stelling and her team sat together at Alaska Airlines (Alaska) headquarters in Seattle, plotting to eliminate a product customers loved.

The airline had acquired the small but sleek and much beloved Virgin America (Virgin), closing the deal at the end of 2016. And Alaska planned to take over the smaller firm's fleet and operations without keeping its brand. Alaska was going to feel blowback from the many Virgin lovers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond when it subsumed its competitor.

Alaska's executives had to set a strategy to take all the good in Virgin, integrate it into the larger company, and present the new unified commercial carrier in a digestible way to its customers and affected employees.

. . .

Keywords: Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, commercial airline, communication, leadership, role-based team building, change management, systems integration, process engineering, information technology, IT, merger, acquisition, data migration, diversity, female protagonist

Suggested Citation

West, June and Gibbs, Shea, Leading Change: How Alaska Airlines Took Over an Industry Darling. Darden Case No. UVA-BC-0268. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3310465

June West (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

Box 6550
100 Darden Boulevard
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States
434-243-7693 (Phone)
434-243-7676 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/faculty/west.htm

Shea Gibbs

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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