In a Stock Market announcement this morning, Willie Walsh announced that he is standing down as Chief Executive of IAG, the British Airways parent company, on 26th March.
His formal retirement date has been set for 30th June.
He will NOT be replaced by Alex Cruz, Chairman and Chief Executive of British Airways. This is unusual as BA is, by far, the dominant business unit inside IAG.
Instead, Walsh will be replaced by Luis Gallego who is currently CEO of Iberia.
Gallego was previously at Air Nostrum, Clickair and Vueling. His first CEO role was in 2012 at Iberia Express, and he took over at the broader Iberia group in 2013 where he reversed six consecutive years of operating losses.
Iberia has seen an amazing turnaround since being ‘acquired’ in the ‘merger’ that created IAG. It has invested in a new long haul fleet, with better business class seating than Club World, and added new routes. Sales and profits have grown sharply whilst staff numbers have been slashed as a more ‘commercial’ approach was taken.
There are two ways of looking at this decision, I think.
The first is that the work at Iberia is ‘done’, with the transformation complete, and it makes more sense to leave Alex in place to complete the job at BA. The problem here is that the work at BA is done. The fleet upgrade orders are placed, the new Club Suite is unveiled, the wi-fi roll-out is almost complete, the catering upgrade is done ….. the next 2-3 years will be about implementation more than announcements, and that could be done just as well under a new leader.
The second view is that Cruz had lost some of Willie’s faith. Back in October, Walsh publicly criticised the BA management team over its failure to stop the pilot strike. The astonishing £183 million fine over the 2018 data breach – a figure which is likely to increase when the class action lawsuit by customers goes ahead – is also likely to have played a part.
It will be interesting to see if Cruz chooses to leave, as it often the case when the logical heir apparent is passed over.
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