Ben Smith named CEO of Air France-KLM despite union objection
Benjamin Smith, currently second in command at Air Canada, was officially named CEO of Air France-KLM group by the board of directors on August 16, 2018. He will take office by September 30, 2018, despite protest from the company’s unions.
Nine unions within Air France voiced their concern before the board meeting in a joint statement, considering that it was “inconceivable that the company Air France, French since 1933, falls into the hands of a foreign leader whose application would be pushed by a competing industrial group,” referring to Delta Air Lines, said a shareholder with a stake of 8.8% in Air France-KLM. The unions estimate that the new CEO might “not defend the national company’s interests” and “lack knowledge […] of the specificities of the French social model.” His salary also sparked outrage. French media Liberation reported that Smith would receive about €3 million per year, three times what his predecessor Jean-Marc Janaillac was paid.
As soon as his name was disclosed on August 8, 2018, Smith’s candidature was criticized by the Syndicat National des Pilotes de Ligne (SNPL), the main pilot union at Air France. In a tweet, Philippe Evain, the SNPL president, declared that this nomination would “keep in place the people that already failed.”
The research was extended to international profiles after the publication of the airline’s financial results in July 2018. The change was pushed by Delta Air Lines, but also by China Eastern, which are among Air France-KLM shareholders. The decision is reportedly backed by the Dutch side of the company.
Air France unions have been asking for a 6% wage increase following a profitable year in 2017. Since the beginning of the year, strikes costed the company more than €300 million. Smith will have to succeed Jean-Marc Janaillac, the former CEO that resigned following the refusal of a draft wage agreement by the unions.
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