The Doha-based carrier’s long-time helmsman, Akbar Al Baker, is retiring on 05NOV23, having served the airline for 27 years. For aviation and marketing experts, the step comes as surprise since there was no indication prior to the announcement that the executive would give up his post. Qatar Airways does not give reasons for his exit in its press release. It is therefore unclear as to what role Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Al Thani and his government played in this personnel decision.
His successor as Group Chief Executive is Doha Hamad International Airport’s chief, Badr Mohammed Al-Meer.
Qatar Airways and Al Baker are practically synonymous. After all, it was the airline's energetic, sometimes high-handed boss who steered the heavily state-supported passenger and cargo carrier’s successful rise through all the economic and political challenges. “It has been an incredible privilege to lead such an exceptional global team, and the honor of a lifetime to serve my country,” the CEO said in a memo as quoted on X by aviation consultant, Alex Macheras.
Spurred by Emirates Airlines’ fast rise, Al Baker joined what was then a three-year-old regional carrier in 1997, and built it into a long-distance powerhouse. Qatar Airways has grown to become one of the most recognized and trusted brands, globally, synonymous with customer service quality and high standards. Qatar’s national carrier has achieved an unprecedented seven-times win of the ‘World's Best Airline’ award, and Hamad International Airport which is under its management and operation, has also been recognized as the ‘World's Best Airport’.
Broad global network
Qatar Airways now flies from its base in Doha to more than 150 destinations. By investing heavily in other airlines such as LATAM, British Airways or RwandAir, to name but a few, Qatar Airways has managed to establish a broad intercontinental network of cooperation partners based on financial ties. However, there have also been setbacks in these expansion efforts, as demonstrated by the 2012 exit of Qatar Airways from Cargolux, in which the Arab company had held 35% of the shares. The reason given for the separation at the time was “irreconcilable strategic and cultural differences”.
Not particularly female-friendly
Because of his know-it-all attitude and many embarrassing public appearances, the son of a Qatari father and an Indian mother had become increasingly unpopular in recent years, at least with European and some American airlines and aviation associations. His arrogant attitude toward women, including the female employees of Qatar Airways, is particularly controversial. For years, for example, the freedom rights of female flight attendants were drastically restricted. Single flight attendants had to agree to remain so for five years, and subsequently required permission from the management if they wanted to get married. If they became pregnant, they risked immediate termination of their contract (which often also meant deportation from Qatar, since the majority of employees are foreigners with visas linked to their work). This is no longer the case, but there are still numerous restrictions on their daily working lives. His 2018 statement at an IATA meeting proved to be a boomerang when, in his role as newly elected chairman, he demanded that such large organizations be headed by a male (and not a female) leader.
Badr Mohammed Al-Meer takes over responsibility
Most recently, he had also kicked off a fierce controversy with Airbus over problems with peeling paint on the new A350 variant. He used his high media profile to aggressively expose this topic to the press. The legal dispute was finally settled earlier this year.
Recently, he had stressed several times that he would not resign until asked to do so. This seems to have happened now.
Al Baker will be succeeded as CEO by Badr Mohammed Al-Meer who currently heads Doha Hamad International Airport.
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