Meet Air NZ's new CEO
Tue, 19 Jun 2012 4:23p.m.
By Will Pollard
Sade’s 1984 hit single ‘Smooth Operator’ was played at a polite volume before the press conference at Air New Zealand today where the company’s next chief executive, Christopher Luxon, was introduced to media.
And the importance of a smooth transition in the company’s leadership was quickly emphasised as company chair John Palmer introduced the new CEO.
Current chief executive Rob Fyfe steps down at the end of the year, and Mr Luxon was chosen to replace him after a worldwide search which ended with an internal promotion.
Both Mr Palmer and Mr Fyfe indicated this was the preferred option.
“One of my key goals was to see an internal candidate succeed me,” says Mr Fyfe.
Mr Luxon is currently group general manager international for the airline, a position he has held since joining Air New Zealand last May.
A New Zealander, born in Christchurch, he came to the company after a stint as president and chief executive of Unilever Canada.
Mr Palmer described Mr Luxon’s appointment as an “important day” for business in New Zealand and evidence of Air New Zealand’s ability to attract talent back from overseas.
He attributed part of the company’s attractiveness to its public-private structure.
“If you have any concerns about the mixed ownership model, then you should look to Air New Zealand,” says Mr Palmer.
“I think it would be fair to say that if this company was not a listed company we would not be attracting high class Kiwis in an international context to come back and work here.”
Mr Palmer has been a vocal supporter of the mixed-ownership model in the past, and in another of his roles as chairman of Solid Energy, called for a public offering for that state-owned enterprise back in 2010.
The Government, which currently owns three-quarters of Air New Zealand, has indicated that the airline is one of a number of assets which could be next in line for partial sell-offs after the state’s power companies.
But whatever the structure of the company he is to lead, it is not an easy ride that Mr Luxon has been brought back to New Zealand for.
Shares in Air New Zealand have declined 21 percent over the last 12 months and in February the company decided to cut 441 jobs after reduced profits.
Mr Fyfe was even asked for reassurance today that no more jobs would go.
“We don’t envisage further cuts,” he told media.
But Mr Luxon appeared unphased by talk of crisis within the airline industry, describing the sector as “highly addictive”.
He acknowledged that “maybe it’s an insane way to make money”, but most of the talk today from the company was about expected future growth.
“We’ve articulated our goal, which is really about improving the profitability of the business by 110 million by 2015,” says Mr Luxon.
He says Air New Zealand is an “awesome” company with an impressive history of profit.
“For an airline to make profits for 10 years in a row is no mean feat,” he says.
“I think we are uniquely positioned where we sit in the world to capitalise on more growth in this industry.
“When you think about rapid increases in middle class populations across the globe, I mean that’s only good for Air New Zealand.”
Mr Luxon is due to take over from Mr Fyfe at the end of December. Mr Fyfe says he has had a few job offers already, but will wait until the end of the year to contemplate his next move.
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