Anderson’s parents both died of cancer while he was in college, leaving him to raise his two younger sisters while working his way through school. Anderson spent nearly a decade as a prosecutor in Texas before landing a job in the legal department at Continental Airlines. He joined Northwest Airlines three years later and would go on to become its CEO. Anderson then spent three years as executive vice president at health insurer United Health.
In 2007, Anderson joined Delta Air Lines’ board of directors and was ultimately asked to become its CEO after the airline emerged from bankruptcy. (Anderson succeeded Gerald Grinstein, who had led Burlington Northern before his stint at Delta.) Delta acquired Northwest in 2008 and is now a profitability leader.
“Richard has a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves, let-me-see-how-this-thing-really-works kind of approach,” John Dasburg, Northwest’s former president, told USA Today in 2008. Anderson also is not afraid to find unconventional solutions to problems. To cut its fuel costs, Delta purchased an oil refinery outside Philadelphia in 2012.
Delta ranked second in customer satisfaction among traditional airlines in this year’s J.D. Power survey.