Friday 19 July 2019

Bellew to be a top contender for Norwegian CEO position

Top Flight: Ryanair chief operating officer Peter Bellew. Photo: REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
Top Flight: Ryanair chief operating officer Peter Bellew. Photo: REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Ryanair executive Peter Bellew is likely to be a top contender for the CEO role at Norwegian, after the Scandinavian airline's boss and co-founder, Bjorn Kjos, stepped down from the role yesterday.

Coincidentally, Mr Bellew, Ryanair's chief operating officer, announced his departure from the Irish airline yesterday. He'll leave in December.

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Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos. Photo: Norwegian Air Shuttle/PA Wire
Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos. Photo: Norwegian Air Shuttle/PA Wire

Mr Bellew's decision to leave Ryanair was a surprise.

He was widely tipped as the leading candidate to take over the chief executive role from Michael O'Leary this year. Mr O'Leary is to become the group chief executive of Ryanair.

Having rejoined Ryanair in October 2017, Mr Bellew has been instrumental at the carrier in helping it through a pilot shortage crisis that year that later prompted the airline to recognise trade unions.

He had been chief executive at Malaysia Airlines for a year before returning to Ryanair. He was previously flight operations director at the Irish carrier.

PayPal executive Louise Phelan
PayPal executive Louise Phelan

Mr O'Leary thanked Mr Bellew yesterday for his work at Ryanair and wished him success in the future.

Some industry insiders have speculated that if Mr Bellew was to take on the chief executive role at Norwegian, it could eventually result in a tie-up between the embattled airline and Ryanair.

Last year, Mr O'Leary denied having approached Norwegian in 2017 with a proposal to take a 20pc stake in the Oslo-based airline. Mr Kjos insisted there had been contact between the two airlines, but Mr O'Leary said there was "no truth to these claims".

Aer Lingus owner IAG had pursued a takeover of Norwegian last year, but was unable to reach an agreement. IAG sold its 3.9pc stake in Norwegian earlier this year.

Norwegian has been struggling to make its low-cost, long-haul model profitable. That forced it to raise equity to keep it in the air.

Norwegian insisted yesterday that it's "delivering on our strategy of moving from growth to profitability" after reporting decent second-quarter revenue and earnings.

Ryanair announced in February that it's changing its corporate structure. Mr O'Leary will become group chief executive, while Ryanair will get a new chief executive.

The model is similar to that at IAG, where Willie Walsh is group chief executive and each airline in the group has its own CEO.

Ryanair now owns Austria-based Laudamotion, and has established a new Poland-based operation that will be known from the autumn as Buzz. Mr O'Leary will focus on overall group strategy, supported by a small team of legal and finance executives.

Other contenders for the role include Ryanair's chief commercial officer, David O'Brien.

Former PayPal senior executive Louise Phelan could be a dark horse in the race for the chief executive job at Ryanair.

She's been a non-executive director at Ryanair since 2012 and is part of its nomination committee. She announced in March that she was stepping down as Paypal's vice president of global operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

But the Ryanair job may equally not attract Ms Phelan - she has said that she would pursue opportunities in the technology sector.

In March, Mr O'Leary said that "ideally" a woman should succeed him. He said that the most likely outcome would be that an insider would take the Ryanair chief executive role, however.

Irish Independent

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