New Southwest Airlines president combines tech and people skills

Tom Nealon has been a chief information officer at three large Dallas companies but he doesn’t consider himself a tech guy.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Tom Nealon has been a chief information officer at three large Dallas companies but he doesn’t consider himself a tech guy.

Instead Nealon, who was named president of Southwest Airlines in January, says he’s a businessman who happens to have a technology background.

That combination of skills is particularly relevant at the Dallas-based carrier and other airlines these days. In recent months, the airlines have suffered from a series of computer outages that stranded hundreds of thousands of customers, putting a spotlight on the importance of technology to their operations.

Tom Nealon, president of Southwest Airlines

Age: 56

Previously: Named president of Southwest after a year as executive vice president of Strategy & Innovation. Earlier, before a previous stint at Southwest, he was in top management at J.C. Penney, Electronic Data Systems and Frito-Lay.

Source: Star-Telegram

At Southwest, Nealon sees technology as a “fundamental enabler” of the airline’s growth strategy, helping to make its operations more efficient so employees can focus on customers.

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“We need to be digital,” Nealon, 56, said during a recent interview in his office at Southwest’s headquarters at Dallas Love Field. “We need to strengthen our customer experience. But our customer experience is always going to be centered with our people.”

When Southwest canceled thousands of flights last July after a backup router failed, Nealon drew lessons from both the technology and people sides of the business.

“We let a lot of our customers down and it was painful to watch and it was painful to see,” he said. “And what was more painful to see is what our front-line employees had to do to work through it.”

Nealon said he knew…

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