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British Airways boss threatens Virgin’s Branson with a “knee in the groin”

Dec 11, 2012 10:00 am

Skift Take

For a man who’s overseeing the faltering British Airways and the bumbling Iberia, Willie Walsh doesn’t have the firmest footing for his impending knee-fest with Sir Richard.

— Jason Clampet

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Sir Richard Branson has accused Willie Walsh of being “childish” after the British Airways and Iberia boss said he would be happy to wager him a “knee in the groin” that Virgin Atlantic would not exist in its current form in five years’ time.

Sir Richard wrote in a blog on Tuesday: “Glad to see Willie Walsh’s rather childish response to my bet proposal: rather than the losing company giving the winner’s staff £1 million, he wants the loser to receive a knee in the groin.

“It seems a very painful and foolish thing for Willie Walsh to propose; but I would be happy to accept. We’ve got used to BA hitting below the belt over the years, but I’m confident it would be the other way around on this occasion.”

A public spat broke out between the two rivals after Mr Walsh suggested this week that the Virgin Atlantic brand would be consigned to the history books if US giant Delta bought a 49pc stake in the carrier set up by Sir Richard in 1984. A deal was announced on Tuesday.

Sir Richard offered to pay BA staff £1m if Mr Walsh’s prediction came true, to which Mr Walsh responded with a more physical wager.

Sir Richard also said that the losing airline should also donate £1 million to charity. He added: “Let’s agree the place this will happen is the HQ of the winner’s airline.

“Look forward to Willie’s visit in December 2017.”

Mr Walsh said on Tuesday morning that he did not respect the British entrepreneur “in the way I respect other people in the industry”.

He suggested a £1m wager would not be fair as Sir Richard is a “billionaire banker”.

“I don’t think a million pounds would hurt him, I don’t have a million pounds so maybe a bet that would be as painful to him as it might be to me – so maybe something like a knee in the groin,” Mr Walsh said.

The IAG chief said he didn’t know Sir Richard very well but “on the limited occasions” he had met him he hasn’t seen anything that would “make me want to meet him again”.

“I just don’t see that the guy has anything that stands out in terms of what he has achieved in the industry,” Mr Walsh said. “I’ve said it publicly, I don’t respect him in the way I respect other people in the industry and that’s a personal view.”

Mr Walsh did, however, praise Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic’s outgoing chief executive.

Delta announced on Tuesday that it would take a 49pc stake in Virgin. Sir Richard will retain his 51pc majority stake.

Sir Richard said in a blog yesterday: “Rumours have been spread in the press that I am planning to give up control of Virgin Atlantic and, according to Willie Walsh – who runs BA – that our brand will soon disappear. This is wishful thinking and totally misguided. Will BA never learn?”

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