International Airlines Group, through British Airways, has a pivotal position at Heathrow so its statements on the vexed issue of a third runway need to be taken seriously.
It certainly does not help if, in the space of just a few weeks, the CEO threatens to leave Heathrow if landing charges are increased heavily to pay for a new runway and then threatens to leave if a decision on building the runway is delayed. However, the most worrying thing about Willie Walsh’s recent outburst is not what he said, but how he said it.
“If the government continues to dither over a new runway, then I’ll move my business elsewhere.”
The “I” in IAG stands for “International” not “Willie”. IAG belongs to its shareholders, not Mr Walsh.
Like a politician, a successful CEO has a limited lifespan. Too long in the job and they begin to think they are indestructible and somehow above the company they lead. The very best CEO’s know when to call time. If he were to leave, or depart upstairs, now he would be going on a high.
If IAG has any strong non-Executive directors, they should talk to Mr Walsh now and remind him firmly that he speaks on behalf of the company, not himself, and his public statements must reflect that. A gentle hint that he has been in the job for rather a long time might also be appropriate.