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EasyJet taps former RBA, RSA boss as new chair

written by Isabella Richards | August 25, 2021
Easyjet has secured a lifeline loan from the UK’s Bank of England (Unsplash)

British low-cost airline easyJet taps Stephen Hester as its new chair, appointed to rescue the company from its financial crisis.

The esteemed business man will replace predecessor John Barton on 1 December this year, who has been the chair of the company since 2013.

Hester said he was a “longstanding admirer” of the carrier and saw “many opportunities” for easyJet in the coming years.

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Stephen Hester has been heralded for his business expertise, previously having directed numerous companies when climbing out from financial crisis.

In 2008, Hester left British Land and became chief executive at the Royal Bank of Scotland when the business fell at the hands of the global financial crisis.

In 2014, Hester then joined RSA Insurance Group as CEO to also assist in the company’s financial crisis, raising £750 million in a rights issue and restructuring management to cut costs.

In a statement, easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “I am very much looking forward to working with Stephen at this important time in our history.”

He said easyJet would “take advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead following the pandemic”.

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Julie Southern, senior independent director at easyJet, said Hester was a strong candidate against others to succeed Barton.

He was chosen “due to his exceptional experience, valuable commercial expertise, insightful and strategic leadership along with his ability to tackle complex challenges,” she said.

The London-based airline lost £1.27 billion in 2020 during the pandemic, dropping 50 per cent in its passengers carried annually compared with 2019.

In its latest third quarter results, the company decreased its losses by 8.2 per cent of £318.3 million compared with this time last year, but are still deep in recovery.

The company forecasted its fourth quarter would boost capacity to 60 per cent of 2019 levels, to “capitalise on the opening-up of travel in continental Europe”, according to easyJet.

EasyJet cut roughly 30 per cent of its staff last year to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, and Hester will continue to reduce costs in his new title.

Although the company is in the midst of the post-pandemic recovery, Hester said he is “very excited” to join in December.

Hester will face the challenge of improving the relationship with founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, according to The Financial Times.

Last year, Sir Stelios tried to boot four directors unsuccessfully – including Barton and the CEO Lundgren – after a management fallout over an Airbus order of 107 jets.

He tried to cancel the £4.5 billion deal with Airbus for months as it would leave the company in more debt, offering £5 million to any whistleblower for information on the order.

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