14 FEBRUARY 2011

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Article from BTNews 14 FEBRUARY 2011

COMMENT: The Chief Executive of British Airways

AERBT undertook a very straightforward straw poll during the Business Travel Show at Earls Court last week with the simple question “Who is the Chief Executive of British Airways?”

The result was fascinating.  Not a single soul was able to answer the question with the solitary exception of a very experienced former Fleet Street hack.  And he struggled.

There is a more important question.  Does it matter if the world outside BA’s Waterside headquarters is aware of who is in charge?  One could argue that as long as the national carrier is profitable for its investors, is a good company to work for, and is worthy of promoting the Union flag, and hence the country, it matters not.

There is another argument that says the CEO is the leader of the airline, promoting it to the public worldwide, creating a morale boosting relationship with its staff, and in this case promoting BA as a constituent part of IAG (International Airlines Group). 

Think of the leaders of British Airways over the last 30 years: 

Roy Watts, who handed the baton to his friend John King; Colin Marshall, an expert on man management; of Robert Ayling perhaps the less said; Rod Eddington a steadier of a rocky ship, and finally Willie Walsh, who did it his way.

BA does seem to be moving ahead with new and potentially profitable destinations, the regular arrival of new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and withdrawal of elderly 747s.  Getting closer is the first Airbus A380, and even perhaps the 787.  The synergies available through oneworld, and hopefully IAG for the future, will hopefully manifest themselves.  Commercially it is seen as less enterprising in recent times and certainly it keeps itself to itself.

The answer of the question posed above for readers of AERBT is that Keith Williams became Chief Executive of British Airways in January 2011 following the merger with Iberia.  He also sits on the board of the two airlines’ parent company IAG.  No press release was issued (legally there was no requirement) and the handover was very low key. 

As Chief Financial Officer of British Airways over the previous five years, Mr Williams played a leading part in the airline’s achievement of a record operating margin in 2007, before steering it through the worst recession in its history and masterminding a solution to its long-standing pensions deficit. 

After joining the airline in 1998, he became BA Group Treasurer and Head of Tax.  He was heavily involved in restructuring the airline’s finances after the aviation slump that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and in the plans that brought the company back to profitability.

His previous employers included Apple, Arthur Andersen and Boots and is a graduate of Liverpool University, where he obtained a first class honours degree in history and archaeology.

He is also a Non-executive Board Member for Transport for London and has been a Board Member of Iberia since 2009.

Now you know.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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