GBTA names Dave Hilfman interim CEO

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Travel Weekly honored Dave Hilfman with a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Travel Weekly honored Dave Hilfman with a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.

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 comment.

Hilfman’s appointment first was reported Tuesday by The Company Dime.

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 board.”

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.”
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Source: Business Travel News

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