Gordon M. Bethune earned worldwide acclaim at Continental Airlines for spearheading one of the most dramatic corporate turnarounds in United States history.
When he joined the troubled carrier as president and chief operating officer in February 1994, Continental consistently ranked last in every measurable performance metric, including on-time performance, customer complaints and mishandled baggage.
Bethune quickly assumed the role of chief executive officer in November 1994, and was elected chairman of the board of directors in September 1996. His effort to rescue the financially troubled carrier from a seemingly irreversible tailspin, as chronicled in his best-selling business novel, "From Worst to First," has made him a legend in commercial aviation. At each step, Bethune never failed to recognize the hard work of Continental’s employees and credit them for the airline's progress.
Continental went on to thrive under his leadership, winning more awards for customer satisfaction from J.D. Power and Associates than any other airline. Fortune magazine named Continental among the 100 Best Companies to Work for in America for six consecutive years. In his final year piloting the airline to success, Fortune magazine ranked Continental 1994's No. 1 Most Admired Global Airline.
BusinessWeek named Bethune one of the top 25 global managers for 1996, and in 1997, Aviation Week & Space Technology, along with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, honored him with the Laureate in Aviation trophy. Bethune was ranked among the 50 best CEOs in America by Worth magazine in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
A native Texan, he was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2004, the Wings Club honored Bethune with the Distinguished Achievement Award, a distinction shared with other past recipients, including Neil Armstrong, Robert F. Six, President George H.W. Bush, Fred Smith and Herb Kelleher.
Prior to joining Continental, Bethune was vice president and general manager of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group’s Renton Division, where he was responsible for the 737 and 757 airplanes. He began his career with Boeing in 1988, and also served as that company’s vice president and general manager of the customer services division.
Before joining Boeing, Bethune held a number of senior management positions in commercial airlines, including vice president of engineering and maintenance for Braniff and Western Airlines, and senior vice president operations for Piedmont Airlines. He also has served as a U.S. Navy aircraft maintenance officer.
Bethune holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Abilene Christian University at Dallas and is a 1992 graduate of Harvard Business School's advanced management program. In addition, he holds honorary doctorate degrees from the College of Aeronautics, Farleigh Dickinson University and Montclair State University.
Bethune is a licensed commercial pilot, type-rated on Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft as well as the DC-3. He also is licensed as an airframe and power plant mechanic.
Bethune serves on the boards of directors of Honeywell International Corporation, Sprint Nextel Corporation, Prudential Financial and the New York Academy of Art.
Bethune retired from Continental at the end of 2004.