Willie Walsh (businessman)
25 October 1961 |
Walsh was born in Dublin, Ireland. He attended his local secondary school Ardscoil Rís. At age 17 he became a pilot at Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus, joining as a cadet in 1979. He acquired a Master's degree in management and business administration from Trinity College, Dublin during his pilot years, while advancing to become a Boeing 737 captain.
He joined company management in various positions including chief executive of then company subsidiary, Futura from 1998 to 2000. He returned to Aer Lingus at that time as Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Aer Lingus chief executive officer
In October 2001 Walsh was elevated from COO to CEO, succeeding Michael Foley who had resigned following a harassment complaint. The carrier was in financial difficulty. Walsh eliminated 2,000 staff positions, reduced the number of aircraft types and sold non-core assets, including an art collection at the company headquarters. He reconfigured Aer Lingus as a low-cost airline in imitation of Ryanair, and began withdrawing from various services like short-haul Business Class and cargo services, and severely restricting the airline's frequent-flyer programme, TAB.
The company operating profits rebounded, but the cost of the write-offs and redundancies meant that net profitability was not as quick to recover. Not all of Walsh's reforms were successful, such as the outsourcing of aircraft cleaning. The contracting had not been agreed with Aer Lingus unions which led to large payments to the private contractor while Aer Lingus employees did the cleaning work. A three-day lock-out occurred in 2002 during the peak of the cutbacks.
The management team suggested to the principal shareholder, the Irish Government, a float of Aer Lingus on the stock market. Stock floats are often rewarding to top management and this was opposed by the unions who feared a privatised Aer Lingus would impose even tougher working conditions. The Government eventually turned down the float and this led to Walsh and other management executives resigning from the company in January 2005.
The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern subsequently described Walsh's offer of an MBO as "a time when management wanted to steal the assets for themselves through a management buy out, shafting staff interests.".
British Airways chief executive officer
Before joining British Airways he briefly worked at the top of Virgin Atlantic but left after a short while due to a falling out with his boss. Luckily after he left a job opened up at British Airways where the board was seeking a successor to chief executive officer Rod Eddington who had announced plans to return to his native Australia at the end of his contract. Walsh was hired in May 2005 at age 43, with a six-month shadowing period to get to know the business before the departure of Eddington on October 2005.
Willie Walsh took over the reins of British Airways as CEO in October 2005, and faced a number of major challenges, including a global downturn, increased competition (from low cost carriers in Europe and premium carriers worldwide), increasing oil prices and taxes. He presided over a period of extensive change for the company. He reduced the number of managers, increased productivity of engineers, baggage handlers and flight crew, and saw through a dispute with the airline's cabin crew.
The major challenges for the airline industry were exacerbated by various natural events such as snow, fog and volcanic ash. He described the closure of European airspace in April 2010 over worries about the ash plume from an erupting Icelandic volcano as a "gross over-reaction to a very minor risk".
Merger with Iberia
Walsh oversaw the merger of British Airways and Iberia forming a new holding company International Airlines Group (IAG) in January 2011. He also created a Joint Business Agreement with Iberia and American Airlines, meaning the three airlines now market and sell each other's seats and share revenue on trans-Atlantic routes.
International Airlines Group
Recognitions and honours
- "IAG Annual Report and Accounts 2011". Annual Report and Accounts 2011. London. p. 58
- "Willie Walsh – Businessweek". businessweek.com. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
- AW&ST, 24 March 2014, p. 46
- AW&ST, 24 March 2014, p. 46
- "Dáil record, 17 May 2006".
-  AW&ST, "Aviation Week's 2014 Laureate Nominees"
- AW&ST, 24 March 2014, p. 46, "Driving Change"
- 2004 IATA conference speaker list with some details of Walsh's Aer Lingus career
- First Post article comparing Walsh to Ryanair's Michael O'Leary