Wheels Up announces senior leadership changes

CMO Lee Applbaum is leaving Wheels Up; former IBM, Coca-Cola execs join in top marketing and digital roles.

By Doug Gollan, May 3, 2023

CMO Lee Applbaum is leaving Wheels Up; former IBM, Coca-Cola execs join in top marketing and digital roles

Former top executives from IBM and Coca-Cola are joining Wheels Up in senior positions as Lee Applbaum, Chief Marketing Officer since 2020, departs.

The news of Applbaum leaving was announced via an 8-K filing yesterday. It said he plans to focus on “personal and entrepreneurial ventures.”

Wheels Up executives
Wheels Up has appointed Kristen Lauria and David Godsman as Chief Customer and Marketing Officer and Chief Digital Officer, respectively.

Kristen Lauria replaces the former marketing head as Chief Customer and Marketing Officer.

Lauria spent 17 years at IBM, including stints as CMO of its Global Business Services, MobileFirst, Lotus Software, and Social Business units.

She was most recently a Senior Advisor at McKinsey; before that, she was Global CMO at Cigna.

Lauria will oversee brand, creative, and customer acquisition and retention, as well as a special focus on the member and customer experience.

She has been a consultant with Wheels Up since January.

Godsman named Chief Digital Officer

Separately David Godsman joins Wheels Up as Chief Digital Officer.

Godsman served as Global Chief Digital Officer for The Coca-Cola Company from 2016 through 2021.

Before that, he held senior digital roles at Bank of America, during which time he also served as Chairman of Zelle.

Godsman brings significant hospitality experience with five years as Global Head of Digital for Starwood Hotels & Resorts from 2006 to 2011.

From 2002 to 2006, he was Joint Venture CEO & Founder of Leading Interactive, the digital travel retail arm for The Leading Hotels of the World, a collection of over 300 independent five-star properties.

According to the announcement, “Godsman will oversee our Digital Product, Technology, and Data Services teams and focus on leveraging its technology investments and infrastructure to drive business results, further improve operations and deliver an extraordinary member experience.”

In addition to its current suite of products and services, Wheels Up has said it wants to create an Amazon-like marketplace for private charter flights.

Godsman will officially join on June 1 and be based in Charlotte, N.C. Lauria will join on May 15 and will be based in New York.

Both will report to Chairman and CEO Kenny Dichter.

“As Wheels Up continues to pursue our vision to make the extraordinary possible every day, I’m pleased to bring aboard two dynamic and seasoned leaders to help take our business to the next level,” said Dichter.

He added, “David and Kristen each bring deep experience in business transformation at some of the largest and most successful companies in the world and will help deliver significant benefits for our members and customers.”

A crucial time for Wheels Up

Lauria and Godsman arrive at a crucial time.

The company forecasts cutting its Adjusted EBITDA losses in 2023 to $110-$130 million on flat revenues. It has promised to be profitable on an Adjusted EBITDA in 2024 after mounting losses since its July 2021 IPO.

It is also trying to improve operational performance as it merges operations of the multiple charter operators it acquired over the last several years.

Wheels Up will seek shareholder approval later this month for a possible reverse stock split, designed to prevent its delisting on the New York Stock Exchange.

It will report its Q1 2023 results next Tuesday before the market opens.

CNBC reported last week the 2013 start-up was considering going private and a cash injection from Delta Air Lines, which owns 20% of the private aviation company.

Last year Wheels Up ranked as the nation’s third-largest private jet operator based on fractional and charter flight hours, trailing only NetJets and Flexjet.

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