Industry player Willie Walsh to retire from IAG

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January 10, 2020
walsh IAG
IAG CEO Willie Walsh.

First Emirates president Tim Clark announced his retirement and now another major industry figure, International Airlines Group boss Willie Walsh, is stepping down.

IAG said Thursday that Walsh had decided to retire on June 30 and would stand down from the role and the IAG board from March 26.

He will be replaced by current Iberia chief executive Luis Gallego.

Walsh, a combative Irishman who was not afraid to mince words, was the prime force behind the merger of British Airways and Iberia to form the basis of IAG, which also now controls Aer Lingus and Vueling.

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Walsh started at Aer Lingus as a pilot in the late 70s and moved through the ranks to ultimately run the Irish carrier.

He became the chief executive of British Airways in 2005 to replace Australian Rod Eddington.

Walsh was a hard-nosed negotiator who moved to reduce union power at BA while tackling a crippling pension deficit and ensuring the airline’s profitability.

However, he has been criticized for taking BA downmarket and undermining the carrier’s status as the self-proclaimed “world’s favourite” airline.

Walsh said in his retirement announcement that it had been a privilege to have been instrumental in the creation of and development of IAG.

“I have had the pleasure of working with many exceptional people over the past 15 years at British Airways and at IAG,’’ he said.

“Luis has been a core member of the team and has shown true leadership over the years and I have no doubt he will be a great CEO of IAG.”

IAG chairman Antonio Vazquez noted the company had become one of the world’s leading airline groups under Walsh’s leadership.

“Willie has been the main driver of this unique idea that is IAG. I hugely admire his commitment, strong leadership and clear vision, always ready to take on whatever challenges lay ahead of him,’’ he said.

“I am deeply respectful of what he has achieved as CEO of this Group, of his sense of fairness, his transparency and his capacity to integrate people regardless of nationalities or backgrounds.”

Gallego, who started his career in the airline industry in 1997 with Air Nostrum and has been CEO of Iberia since 2014, said he was confident he could build on the strong foundations built by Walsh.