Delta Airlines CEO History



  • D.Y. Smith (1928-1934)
  • Clarence Faulk (1934-1945)
  • Collett E. Woolman (1945-1965)
  • Charles Herbert Dolson (1965-1970)
  • William Thomas Beebe (1970-1978)
  • David C. Garrett Jr. (1978-1987)
  • Ronald W. Allen (1987-1997)
  • Leo F. Mullin (1997-2004)
  • Gerald Grinstein (2004-2007)
  • Richard H. Anderson (2007-2016)
  • Edward H. Bastian (2016-present)


Delta Airlines founder, D.Y. Smith
© History Oasis

As Delta's founding president, D.Y. Smith guided the fledgling airline through its turbulent early years, overseeing initial crop-dusting operations and the shift to passenger service, though his tenure concluded before the company obtained an all-important air mail contract.

Leading Delta in those primitive pioneering days of aviation, Smith laid important groundwork for future growth, but could not achieve profitability, resulting in the company temporarily ceasing passenger flights during his time at the helm.

While not completing the transformation into a stable business, Smith established a route network and corporate framework that his successors would soon build upon to make Delta an aviation giant.


Clarence Faulk
© History Oasis

As Delta endured early financial struggles, Clarence Faulk took the reins as President in 1934 determined to shepherd the young airline towards stability and growth.

Securing vital air mail routes helped revive Delta under Faulk's leadership and, as passenger numbers increased in the late 1930s, he set the company on firmer footing before becoming Delta's first Chairman in 1945.

Though not without continued growing pains, Faulk guided Delta through lean early years, expanding routes and services which began to tap into aviation's burgeoning commercial potential before his death in 1951.


portrait of Collett Woolman
© History Oasis

As Delta's principal founder and long-time leader, Collett Woolman molded the airline into a major force during the most transformational decades in aviation history.

Overseeing the pivotal transition to jets as President and General Manager starting in 1945, then serving as Delta's first Chief Executive from 1965 until his death in 1966.

Skillfully navigating huge technological and industry changes, Woolman's vision and steady hand at the controls steered Delta from a struggling start-up to rank among America's elite airlines, laying the foundation for it to become the global giant it remains today.


portrait of Charles Dolson
© History Oasis

Assuming the presidency upon Woolman's promotion to CEO in 1965, Charles Dolson captained Delta through the competitive pressures of a newly deregulated era, leading the airline to become the first with an all-jet fleet by 1970, before a brief stint as Chairman and CEO until his 1971 retirement.

Building on Woolman’s innovations, Dolson upgraded Delta’s aircraft and streamlined operations to solidify its place among the nation’s major air carriers, though deregulation’s turmoil would soon pose new tests for his successors.


William Beebe
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As Delta entered the high-stakes deregulated skies of the 1970s, William “Tom” Beebe took the controls first as President then Chairman and CEO from 1971 to 1978.

Overseeing rapid fleet upgrades, new technologies, and the airline's largest-ever merger with Northeast Airlines in 1972.

Guiding Delta through freshly turbulent times, Beebe embraced industry upheaval as an opportunity to hone a leaner airline wielding expanded domestic and global reach—laying successful groundwork for the next generation of leaders who would make Delta an international powerhouse.


portrait of David Garrett Jr.
© History Oasis

A pivotal leader spanning Delta's pre and post-deregulation eras, David Garrett served first as President then Chairman and CEO between 1971 and 1987.

Shepherding the airline into the modern global age through periods of high fuel prices, new competition, and industry consolidation.

Implementing sweeping internal changes while expanding Delta’s reach at home and overseas, Garrett’s steady hand at the helm saw revenues and passengers numbers swell, establishing Delta as a front-runner into the transatlantic market, before passing the torch in 1987 to his heir-apparent Ron Allen.


portrait of Ronald Allen
© History Oasis

Assuming Delta’s presidency and operations helm in 1983, Ronald Allen guided the airline to record profits and growth as Chairman and CEO from 1987 to 1997.

Consolidating domestic and global dominance through mergers, transatlantic partnerships, and the strategic 1991 acquisition of Pan Am’s European routes.

Credited with shaping Delta into the internationally renowned carrier it remains today, Allen also ushered the company into the internet age—though failing to fully adapt to an increasingly technology-driven and crowded aviation landscape would mark the decade’s latter challenges.


portrait of Leo Mullin
© History Oasis

As Delta entered the internet-fueled 1990s, Leo Mullin took charge first as President and CEO in 1997 then Chairman from 1999 to 2004.

Confronting game-changing innovations in pricing, distribution, and competition while aiming to preserve Delta’s place among a shrinking roster of American aviation heavyweights.

Despite successes modernizing Delta’s fleet and global partnerships amid turbulent transformation, Mullin could not redress growing cost disadvantages, and after September 11 delivered Delta’s first losses in decades—setting the stage for restructuring and eventual merger once he departed the C-suite.


portrait of Gerald Grinstein
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Assuming the controls during Delta’s roughest passage, Gerald Grinstein Captained the airline through bankruptcy restructuring as CEO from 2004 to 2007.

Enacting steep cuts while borrowing over $2 billion to fund operations as Delta battled low-cost competition and soaring fuel prices.

With deregulation’s harsh realities threatening Delta’s survival, Grinstein kept the storied carrier solvent, slashing $5 billion in costs before handing an independent Delta back to Wall Street in 2007—setting the stage for renewed prosperity under successor Richard Anderson.


portrait of Richard Anderson
© History Oasis

Taking the helm as Delta emerged from bankruptcy in 2007, Richard Anderson led the airline into new-found profitability and global prominence.

Orchestrating Delta’s acquisition and integration of Northwest in 2008 and championing strategic partnerships expanding Delta’s worldwide reach and commercial power.

Architect of Delta’s rebuilt domestic and international might—with major hubs in key European and Asian markets—Anderson guided the airline through financial crisis and industry upheaval before 2016 retirement, leaving successor Ed Bastian equipped to lead Delta ever onward and upward.


portrait of Delta CEO, Edward Bastian
© History Oasis

Inheriting the presidency in the turbulent 2000s then assuming the ultimate leadership role in 2016, Edward Bastian guided Delta towards renewed prosperity and an illustrious second century.

Overseeing critical merger integration before cementing Delta’s dominance through bold investments, premium products, and creative partnerships that expanded SkyTeam’s global footprint.

Charting an ambitious flightpath focused equally on customer service and shareholder returns, Bastian’s balanced strategy continues paying lucrative dividends, as Delta consolidates its place among the industry's highest-flying and most admired airlines worldwide.