Walsh continues to lead a charmed life amid BA war
Published 25/03/2010 | 05:00
British Airways chief Willie Walsh, now a scourge of aviation unions on both sides of the Irish Sea, appears to be hunkering down for a long fight with the Unite trade union in the UK.
Walsh may be leading a loss-making junk bond-rated airline, but the balance sheet of the carrier is strong enough in cash terms to let the fight drag on for a while without imperilling its position.
Walsh's evident appetite for the fight has surprised the UK media, and made him something of a darling in the City.
His failure to crack under huge external pressure, including an intervention from no less than Prime Minister Brown, is gaining him plaudits and actually pushing up the share price. Investors for a long time have regarded BA staff costs as out of kilter when measured against its peer group, and they are prepared to let Walsh fight this one out if it means longer term cost benefits.
Walsh has also withdrawn travel perks from striking BA staff in a sign that he has no intention of winning a popularity contest.
A clumsy attempt by his trade union adversary, Unite's Tony Woodley, to go over Walsh's head to chairman Martin Broughton backfired spectacularly, when the chairman effectively gave Walsh carte blanche to run the strike the way he wants until Unite come in from the cold.
Based on his Aer Lingus career, Walsh doesn't lose too many battles with the unions. Having been a union official himself at one point, he knows that he who blinks first tends to lose. Walsh came perilously close to losing his job when the Terminal 5 fiasco at Heathrow happened on his watch.
But not for the first time Walsh escaped intact, and he does tend to lead a charmed managerial life. It is worth remembering that he got the Aer Lingus job in 2001; his big break, came only after several other more celebrated Irish CEOs opted to turn it down.
The Unite strike at this point doesn't look like delivering Walsh's first dose of bad luck either.