The long search is finally over for a replacement of Jean-Marc Janaillac as CEO for the Air France-KLM Group. Some within the company had hoped for an internal solution, but now it’s been made public that Janaillac’s replacement will come from across the Atlantic.
A long search is over
When M. Janaillac tendered his resignation at the end of May as a result of the ongoing labour conflict with Air France workers, an interim management under the guidance of Pieter Elbers, KLM’s President and CEO was set up. The question arose at that time as to why Mr Elbers was not appointed as group CEO considering his vast experience in aviation and his knowledge of the AF-KL group.
Up until then there had never been a non-French CEO at Air France or during the past years at AF-KL after they’d joined forces. The story was that the board of directors were looking within French economic circles for Mr Janaillac’s successor.
Canadian Ben Smith to take the helm
In a surprise announcement on August 16th the Air France-KLM board of directors made it public that Air Canada’s present Chief Operating officer (COO), Benjamin (Ben) Smith, has been appointed as the group’s first non-French CEO. Smith tendered his resignation with Air Canada on the same day and is expected to take up the reins at AF-KL by latest September 30th of this year.
In a statement issued on August 16th, the board said that he will be responsible for putting new life into AF-KL and work on a new leadership approach with the relevant Air France-KLM teams and their managers as well as trying to get the unions at Air France back in line. Something which all who preceded him have had no luck with.
Ben Smith is noted for his hard-negotiating form and dialogue with others and it is said that he was instrumental in transforming Air Canada back into a profitable organisation. He stated “I am
well aware of the competitive challenges the Air France-KLM group is currently facing and I am convinced that the airline’s teams have all the strengths to succeed in the global airline
Positive words from a man who will face many internal challenges.
Not a happy decision for many
One of Mr Smith’s biggest challenges will be to get the unions on his side and make sure the costs incurred by strikes will diminish.
However, there again rises the question why a KLM manager was not appointed to the position. Something which has been annoying many KLM’ers for a long time. Having to go all the way across the Atlantic for a substitute when there is surely one on their own doorstep - remains unanswered.
We wish him all the best of good luck.
John Mc Donagh