At Air Canada, Ben Smith developed a reputation as a straight shooter with employees, customers, and even journalists. But Air France-KLM is a different beast. The company is broken, and the French aren't accustomed to having an outsider run their national airline. If he gets the job, it'll be an interesting ride.
Air France-KLM Group is close to naming a CEO after an almost three-month search, with Ben Smith from Air Canada emerging as a leading candidate, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The board will meet later this week and could finalize a decision then, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing a non-public matter. Smith, who is currently chief operating officer at the Canadian airline, stands to receive a pay package totaling 3.3 million euros ($3.74 million) a year, the person said, confirming a report in the French newspaper Liberation, which said earlier that the board is set to appoint Smith on Thursday.
“The recruitment process is ongoing and no decision has been made,” a company spokesman said in response to questions from Bloomberg News. Air Canada declined to comment.
If appointed, Smith would inherit the task of leading the French carrier out of a costly labor conflict that’s tarnished its reputation among customers. Jean-Marc Janaillac left the post after losing a bet he could face down Air France unions in the dispute over pay. While labor representatives have held off calling more strikes since the resignation, they have warned the walkouts could resume as early as September.
The conflict has cost the airline more than 335 million euros ($382 million) this year, and shaken customer confidence in Air France’s reliability after flights were canceled during 15 days of rotating walkouts that began in February.
Janaillac resisted demands for higher pay, citing the need to invest in new planes to compete with Persian Gulf and low-cost carriers. The search for the new CEO took a dramatic turn in June when a frontrunner for the job pulled out of the race, blaming hotel operator Accor SA for meddling in the process. Accor dropped a plan to acquire a stake in Air France-KLM last month.
–With assistance from Frederic Tomesco.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
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Photo Credit: Ben Smith, president of Air Canada, could soon be named president of Air France-KLM. Bloomberg
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