Longtime airline executive Dave Hilfman will take the reins
of GBTA as interim CEO, sources independently confirmed to Business Travel News.
The fate of current CEO Scott Solombrino, on administrative
leave since June 19, was unclear Tuesday, and GBTA did not return calls seeking
Hilfman’s appointment first was reported Tuesday by The
Hilfman most recently served as senior vice president of
worldwide sales for United Airlines, the position he held at the time of his
2018 retirement. He is a 30-plus-year veteran of the airline industry,
beginning in 1981 as a campus sales representative for Eastern Airlines at the
University of South Florida. He was senior vice president of worldwide sales
role at Continental Airlines from 2004 to 2010 and assumed the same role at
United after the two airlines merged. In January, travel technology provider
NuTravel appointed him to its board of directors. He additionally joined the
board of travel management company Direct Travel.
BTN three times has named Hilfman among its annual “Most
Influential Executives” list. GBTA awarded him its Icon award in 2017. He won a
Travel Weekly Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Hilfman is regarded throughout the industry for his
integrity and inclusiveness. Longtime friend Susan Lichtenstein, now managing
partner at DigiTravel Consulting, described Hilfman in an email as “[the guy]
everyone in the room wants to get close to. He always listens first and then
determines the next steps. He’s a great leader [who] removes obstacles in the
path of others, empowers them to grow and learn and celebrates their wins as if
they were his own. Dave is that leader. He leaves every room better than it was
when he walked in.”
His extroverted personality, deep industry knowledge and
extensive network may offer the salve to heal relationships with key suppliers
like SAP Concur and travel management heavyweight CWT, both of which penned
strong rebukes of GBTA leadership and board transparency, and withdrew their
financial support as well as volunteer participation in the organization in the
wake of the allegations against Solombrino. Other major suppliers indicated to
BTN that they had communicated with the board and were poised to do the same.
With Hilfman’s appointment, however, several have reversed
course and will now continue to support the organization.
GBTA will also bank on Hilfman’s leadership qualities to
repair the rifts with volunteer committees that suspended participation
awaiting the outcome of the investigation.
With all the perceived positives that come with Hilfman’s
interim appointment, some industry observers are noting its temporary nature.
They said GBTA should use that time -- which a source close to the deal said
would be “about six months” -- to rebuild its structure, vet current bylaws and
vastly increase transparency into board activities, elections and future
appointments to key positions within the organization.
“From a strategic perspective ... Dave has nothing but
admirers, followers and friends, so he’s certainly a good pick for the interim,”
said Partnership Travel Consulting founder and CEO Andy Menkes. “But I’d like
to believe [the board will] go through a formal and open process to identify a
permanent replacement. That would start with posting the position on their job
Until then, all eyes will be on Hilfman to turn GBTA’s
fortunes around, with an emphasis on inclusion and transparency that properly
represents the managed travel industry.
“Delta is an inclusive and diverse organization and we
believe in treating others with dignity and respect and expect our partners to
do the same,” said Delta senior vice president of global sales Bob Somers in an
email. “We are pleased with the board’s decision to appoint Dave Hilfman as the
interim CEO. ... We know he will bring his wealth of experience to this new
role. His leadership and integrity is unquestioned, and he has the full support
of our organization.”
Source: Business Travel News