Ever since Stelios left the easyJet board, he has concentrated on being a thorn in the side of the company. Informed and intelligent criticism is one thing but Stelios has gone far beyond this. His public spats with the board have become increasingly bitter and childish – and lost him respect from other financial backers of the airline.
The airline is actually doing very well without Stelios. The airline’s board acted swiftly to replace an unsuitable CEO and, since then, passenger numbers, customer satisfaction and profits have soared. You might imagine that a man whose family still owned 37% of the airline’s shares would be happy and reluctant to wash any dirty linen in public.
His latest broadside offers the airline a very tempting solution to the problem. On Monday, Stelios announced that he has sold 1% of his shareholding as a public warning to the board. If they follow a strategy of increasing the fleet, rather than concentrating on paying out more to shareholders, he and his family will sell the rest of their holding.
The board has actually been very cautious in its growth strategy but there are some opportunities for budget airlines to keep growing in the difficult European market and easyJet would be foolish to walk away from them just to please its troublesome founder.
It must be very tempting for the board to call Stelios’ bluff. Announce a fleet expansion, get him to sell his shares as he has promised and then reduce the order to a more sensible level.
That could be a very neat solution.