by LaToya Wright and
Rob Taylor Jr.
For New Pittsburgh Courier
In 1989, Brett J. Hart, as a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
Hart eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and English. At the University of Chicago, Hart earned a law degree.
Today, the Alphas can boast that one of their own is the new president of United Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the United States.
United is based in Chicago. It announced on May 18 that Hart would become the company’s president, which is the number two leadership role at the company.
“I am honored and energized as I take on these new responsibilities to lead this incredible team that I am convinced will build United into a thriving industry leader,” Hart said in a statement. “The path forward will not be easy, but I am confident that (CEO) Scott (Kirby) and I will continue our partnership to lead United through the extraordinary challenge posed by COVID-19. United’s bright future is only possible because of the commitment of the most talented airline professionals in the world who serve United and our customers every single day—and I could not be prouder of them.
Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, Hart is the first African American to become President of United Airlines in the airline’s 94-year history.
Hart was a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago. Before that, he served as a special assistant to the general counsel at the U.S. Department of Treasury in Washington, D.C. Later he would go on to work for the Sara Lee Corporation as the executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, where he directed global legal operations.
Hart joined United Airlines in 2010. Over his 10-year career with United, Hart has taken on significant responsibilities within the company. Hart has previously worked as Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for the company. In 2015, he stepped in and served as interim CEO for six months while then-CEO Munoz recovered from a heart transplant.
As President of United, Hart will continue to lead the company’s public advocacy strategy, including the Government Affairs, Corporate Communications, Legal and Community Engagement teams. He will also continue to oversee business-critical functions like the Corporate Real Estate team and manage United’s industry-leading environmental sustainability efforts. His responsibilities will expand to include managing the Human Resources and Labor Relations teams.
Hart is taking this position comes as he, along with other executives, are waiving their salaries for a time as the company struggles financially. Like others in the airline industry, United is trying to deal with the losses from the coronavirus pandemic.
Kirby, United’s current CEO, said in a statement: “The leadership Brett has shown us as we have managed the current crisis reinforces the conclusion I reached last year: Brett is exactly the leader that United needs right now to take on the role of President.”
According to Black Enterprise, Hart is active in several philanthropic organizations, including serving on the boards of the Obama Foundation Inclusion Council, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, University of Chicago, Northwestern Medicine and is chair of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority Board.
(LaToya Wright is a contributing writer for the Chicago Defender.)