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United CEO reflects on one year at the helm: 'We need to treat people better'

United CEO reflects on one year at the helm: 'We need to treat people better'

Just five months after returning from medical leave from a heart transplant, and about a year after taking over United Continental, Oscar Munoz is moving full steam ahead.

"I think it's a group that at a point in time, we may have the best board in the industry, along with the best management team. So we are ready to go," Munoz said.

In an interview with Jim Cramer, Munoz said he understands the headwinds that a cyclical industry like airlines faces. Before joining United, Munoz worked at railroad giant CSX Corp for more than a decade.

"My job, our job, the new team's job is to prepare for all sorts of the ups and downs. And right now we are facing a little bit of headwind with regards to the economy and fuel," Munoz said. "That is why you put a great team together, that's why you put a strategy that takes care of all the different sort of cyclical events, and then when it pops up you're ready to go."

Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

However, the railroad industry differs from the airlines, and Munoz knows that. He believes airlines differ from rails in that airlines are a people business. United carries approximately 140 million passengers each year, and has more than 86,000 employees.

He wants to create a shared purpose for employees to engage with customers and treat them better.

"We have been hard at work with that from our labor perspective, from our management groups. We need to treat people better," Munoz said.

Munoz has tried to build a core team ready to handle issues ranging from a struggling energy sector, strengthening dollar, Zika and declining traffic for South American routes. He has made big moves to build that team.

On Tuesday, the president of American Airlines, Scott Kirby, stepped down from his position. He was then confirmed as the new president of United Continental. The move was viewed as a major positive for the airline, as United's stock jumped more than 8 percent on the news.

"Scott's a great guy. He is a well-known commodity in the airline industry," Munoz said. "I have had a chance to meet people all over the world, and there is probably less than a handful of folks that have that level of intellect and understanding of the puzzle that networks are in the airline industry, and he's a great addition to the team. We are glad to have him."

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