Skift Take

KLM CEO Pieter Elbers has done a fine job with his airline. It is a good thing he is staying put. But how will he work with group CEO Ben Smith? We'll find out.

In his roughly four-year tenure as top boss, KLM CEO Pieter Elbers has molded his Dutch airline into the top performer in the Air France-KLM Group, leading it to major profits while its French cousin struggled with labor and operational issues.

Yet last week, I suggested new Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith should have the right to remove Elbers if he wished. Smith, I noted, was brought in to meld cultures and operations at the two airlines, which have maintained mostly separate management structures since the 2004 deal that created Air France-KLM. I argued that Smith, as the ultimate boss, deserved final say on personnel — even if it meant removing a highly respected executive.

Many readers did not agree, writing me to say it made no sense to replace the CEO of the airline that for years propped up the group. It is a compelling argument: How can you punish an executive for good work?

This week we learned Elbers will stay, though his role could change. He’ll remain CEO of KLM, but reports indicate he’ll work more with colleagues in Paris, as Smith seeks to create a more cohesive operation. For the group, he’ll be deputy CEO, with Air France CEO Anne Rigail.

On paper, it is an elegant solution. Elbers, who is respected by Dutch politicians and labor groups, will remain, while Smith can still push for more integrated operations. But will it work? Or will Elbers feel marginalized?

— Brian Sumers, Senior Aviation Business Editor [[email protected], @briansumers]

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Next Week

I’m heading to Dallas/Forth Worth next week for a 24-hour media blitz with American Airlines. Someone at American thought it might be fun to invite journalists to spend all night — literally all night — with the airline at headquarters. If I survive, I hope to have a report for you soon.

I’ll be on social media between 8 p.m. CT on Monday and about 6 a.m. on Tuesday sharing my observations. You can find me on Twitter @briansumers and Instagram at bsumers.

Contact Me

Skift Senior Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers [[email protected]] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send him an email or tweet him.

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Tags: air france-klm, airline innovation report, klm

Photo credit: KLM CEO Pieter Elbers will stay on the job but should work more closely with executives at the group level. Pictured is a KLM Boeing 737. KLM

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