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Norwegian Air CEO Steps Down Unexpectedly, But Retains Advisory Role

Norwegian Air CEO Steps Down Unexpectedly, But Retains Advisory Role
Jeff Edwards

After nearly two decades at the helm of Norwegian Air Shuttle, Bjørn Kjos will step down as CEO, but will continue to be a major stakeholder and maintain an advisory role at the company. Under Kjos’s reign, Norwegian rapidly expanded from a little-known regional carrier to a major player on the international stage.

Norwegian Air has announced that current CFO Geir Karlsen will take over as interim CEO as of July 11, following the unexpected departure of 17-year veteran CEO Bjørn Kjos. Kjos will maintain a position with the company as “advisor to the Chairman.” The 72-year-old outgoing Norwegian CEO and co-founder is also a major stakeholder in the company.

Despite the sudden nature of this week’s announcement, the fact that Kjos is maintaining substantial influence within the organization offers some indication that his departure was amicable. Norwegian officials certainly offered a glowing review of his tenure at the company.

“I am very pleased Bjørn will remain at the company as an advisor to the Board and the Chair,” Norwegian Chairman Niels Smedegaard said in a statement announcing the shakeup in leadership. “As Norwegian moves from growth to profitability, it will be an advantage for the company to benefit from Bjørn’s extensive network, in-depth knowledge of and experience with global aviation. We have already started the process of recruiting a permanent new CEO. Bjørn has played an unprecedented role in Norwegian’s success. His vision of offering affordable fares for all, combined with his enthusiasm and innovating spirit, has revolutionized the way people travel for pleasure and for business, not least between the continents. Bjørn is definitely one of the most influential European entrepreneurs of our time.”

Under Kjos’s direction, Norwegian Air rapidly expanded from a small domestic carrier with a handful of aircraft to a major international airline with hundreds of planes, thousands of employees and a presence around the globe. Although the low-cost-carrier has experienced meteoric growth, the business model has struggled to maintain profitability. The company indicated that, “Running a profitable business and boosting company value to the benefit of shareholders, customers and employees will be key for the [new] CEO going forward.” Noting a “demanding period of financial and operational challenges,” Smedegaard also echoed these sentiments.

“We have to ensure that Norwegian is well prepared and positioned to handle volatile markets and unexpected events,” the Norwegian chairman explained. “It is crucial that we continue to deliver on our cost reduction initiatives and that we constantly ensure that we have a route portfolio that yields profit. It is also important that the new CEO develops an organization that embraces continued improvement and operational excellence.”

 

[Featured Image: Wikimedia/ Jim Anderson]

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