Willie Walsh is stepping down as CEO and from the board of of IAG, the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling effective March 26 and retiring June 30. He’s 58 years old and has talked about retiring by 60, though this is ahead of schedule. He’ll be replaced by Luis Gallego, CEO of Iberia.
Walsh led the acquisition of airlines beyond BA to form what’s now IAG. He rose from an Aer Lingus pilot to its CEO in 2001, becoming the CEO of British Airways in 2005 and bumping up to oversee strategy for the group in 2011. He led cost-cutting measures passenger benefit-cutting and largely broke the British Airways flight attendants union. The cover of this 2016 investor presentation may sum up his philosophy best.
Willie Walsh’s path had been running BA to running the group yet it seemed obvious that British Airways CEO Alex Cruz wouldn’t get the job when Willie Walsh was publicly badmouthing Cruz during the darkest days of pilot negotiations, suggesting that if he were the one managing things he’d get the job done.
Cruz led British Airways during massive IT meltdown and a big data breach. He’s not been popular with labor, but Willie Walsh wasn’t either.
Of course Cruz was ‘just following orders’. He was implementing Willie Walsh’s directives on IT cost cutting. British Airways and IAG share headquarters facilities at Waterside. It just didn’t work out well for Cruz.
New CEO Luis Gallego was more successful – best known for slashing staff, he’s managed to avoid some of the missteps by Cruz. He may have had a freer hand, working 750 miles away.