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Aer Lingus

Willie Walsh Exits IAG, Leaving Company in Coronavirus Crisis

Willie Walsh Exits IAG, Leaving Company in Coronavirus Crisis
Joe Cortez

The longtime executive over four of Europe’s biggest air carriers has stepped down, leaving the company in the balance as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. At the company shareholder’s annual general meeting, Willie Walsh formally retired from the company, and will be replaced by the chairman and chief executive of Iberia.

One of the world’s largest airline companies now has a new leader, promoted from within. In a press release, International Airlines Group confirmed the retirement of former chief executive Willie Walsh at the company’s annual general shareholder meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

Walsh Leave Airlines in the Middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Walsh first came to power at IAG in January 2011, after holding leadership positions at Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic and ultimately British Airways. During his tenure, Walsh oversaw the expansion of their partnership with American Airlines, and the addition of Aer Lingus to the IAG portfolio.

The original succession plan called for Walsh to leave the carrier in March 2020. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic completely disrupted the international aviation industry, he decided to stay on to help the airlines under his watch navigate the novel Coronavirus outbreak.

Walsh will be replaced by the current chief executive and chairman of Iberia, Luis Gallego. He joined IAG after his company, low-cost airline Clickair, was merged with fellow discount carrier Vueling. As the new executive, he will be expected to help IAG manage its future during what Walsh said was British Airways’ “fight for its survival.”

“This is a hugely difficult time for our industry,” Gallego said in a press release. “Not only do we face the immediate challenge of COVID-19 but we must ensure that IAG is strong and resilient when it emerges from the crisis…My goal is to ensure that IAG adapts to the “new normal” in aviation and builds on its strengths to secure a strong future for the Group, our customers, shareholders and employees.”

For his service, Walsh is expected to receive a $1.16 million “farewell” payment from the company. According to Reuters, while some investors have called for the payment to be blocked, any voting on the compensation reports are non-binding.

The transition-of-power has gone well, with investors backing the plan to keep the conglomerate flying into the future. Reuters reports the shareholders approved a plan to increase company shares with the goal of raising $3.25 billion to keep the carrier flying.

Walsh Retirement One of Many Chairs Shuffling at IAG

Walsh leaving the airline is but one of many leadership changes coming to the embattled conglomerate. In addition to the executive changes, the board of directors chair Antonio Vázquez will step down from his position in January 2021. He will be replaced by Javier Ferrán, an independent director currently sitting on the board.

“It is a huge privilege to become IAG chairman and take over from Antonio. I would like to thank my fellow Board members for their support and trust,” Ferrán said in a press release. “I am committed to leading the Group through this crisis and working with Luis to build a strong future, in which the Group will continue to take a leading role in the industry.”

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