Business Irish

Sunday 16 December 2018

'I don't think about retiring, but I won't be here at 70,' - IAG CEO Willie Walsh

IAG CEO Willie Walsh with Aer Lingus CEO Stephen Kavanagh Photo: Jason Clarke
IAG CEO Willie Walsh with Aer Lingus CEO Stephen Kavanagh Photo: Jason Clarke
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

IAG CEO Willie Walsh says he has no immediate plans to retire, but insisted he won't be hanging around in the role until he's 70.

Mr Walsh, who turned 57 last week, has frequently been held hostage to a comment he made a number of years ago that his ideal retirement age would be 55.

But speaking to the Irish Independent, he said that he has no intention to stepping down as CEO of IAG, which owns Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling.

"I don't think about retiring. I just know I'll have to face up to it at some stage," he said.

"I'm 57 now and you have to think more about it," he said. "I'm 40 years working in the industry at this stage, so I know I'm getting closer to retirement than I have been before.

"I won't be there when I'm 70. I've been very clear with the board; my contract is a rolling 12-month contract. That's what I've always been on. I've told the board I'm happy to continue if they want me to, but they obviously have a responsibility to think about succession."

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary, who turns 58 next March, has also insisted on a number of occasions over the past few years that he would be retiring within a couple of years.

But he said last month that he probably wouldn't be running Ryanair for another five years.

"I like this company. I like working for this company. I don't do it for the pay I get," said Mr O'Leary.

Mr Walsh joked that he was "outraged" that Aer Lingus boss Stephen Kavanagh, who recently announced that he'll step down from his role in January, had "beat him to it". Mr Kavanagh will remain as a non-executive director at Aer Lingus.

Mr Walsh, a former Aer Lingus pilot who was CEO of the then State-owned airline from 2001 to 2005 before leaving and being appointed CEO of British Airways, said he thinks about potential succession candidates for the IAG post on an ongoing basis.

"I have a responsibility to identify people inside, and people in the industry from outside, and then it's for the board to consider whether they want to consider somebody from outside the industry," he said.

Last week Mr Walsh criticised government plans for a third terminal at Dublin Airport, saying it's "unrealistic" to expect airlines to pay for something that "isn't needed".

The Department of Transport has published a report that has suggested Dublin Airport could need a third terminal as early as 2030. But the DAA, the semi-State company that operates the airport, has insisted it doesn't need another terminal until about 2040.

"Let's be clear: airlines don't want empty terminal buildings," Mr Walsh said.

"Given that we're the people who would be expected to pay for it, I think it's unrealistic to expect us to pay for something that isn't needed and isn't wanted."

IAG owns Aer Lingus, British Airways and Spanish carriers Iberia and Vueling - all of which operate at Dublin.

He added: "There's plenty of opportunity to exploit existing terminal facilities at Dublin Airport. Credit to DAA, the relationship between it and Aer Lingus has been strong recently... there's a common agenda there.

"If I was the DAA, I wouldn't want to be building something that I don't believe is needed. The airlines will certainly be clear in terms of the growth that we see in that time frame," said Mr Walsh. "It's important that we don't build inefficient infrastructure or infrastructure that's not required. There's no free lunch here."

Irish Independent

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