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He's been hinting at it for a while, but it's still something of a shock to hear that Willie Walsh is finally hanging up his boots. The Air Europa deal — should it come off — looks like his last hurrah.

Long-serving IAG CEO Willie Walsh, who started his career as a pilot 40 years ago, is to retire later this year. It brings down the curtain on one of the most influential careers in modern European aviation.

The move was expected. Walsh will stand down from the role and from company’s board on March 26 and will officially retire on June 30. Luis Gallego, currently Iberia CEO, will succeed him.

Walsh has been one of the key drivers of consolidation in the European aviation industry. He spearheaded the merger of British Airways and Iberia in 2011 and since then has added a handful of other airline brands to the group. Just last year the company announced a $1.1 billion (€1 billion) deal to buy Air Europa.

“The timing of the CEO change is sensible. IAG has recently agreed its latest acquisition for Air Europa: a Madrid-based leisure carrier. With the deal targeted to close in H2 2020, having a stable management team to oversee the integration should be preferred,” Daniel Roeska, senior research analyst at broker Bernstein said in a note to investors.

Not everyone, however, has been enamored with his way of doing business. He earned the nickname “Slasher” Walsh for his cost-cutting in a previous job at Aer Lingus and came into conflict with unions while trying to do something similar at British Airways.

“Willie has led the merger and successful integration of British Airways and Iberia to form IAG. Under Willie’s leadership IAG has become one of the leading global airline groups,” said Antonio Vázquez, IAG chairman.

Gallego has spent most of his career in the Spanish aviation industry, working at the likes of Aviaco, Air Nostrum and Clickair. He has been CEO of Iberia since 2013.

IAG will name a successor to Iberia “in due course.”

“It has been a privilege to have been instrumental in the creation and development of IAG. I have had the pleasure of working with many exceptional people over the past 15 years at British Airways and at IAG,” Walsh said.

“Luis has been a core member of the team and has shown true leadership over the years and I have no doubt he will be a great CEO of IAG.”

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Tags: aer lingus, british airways, iag, iberia, Willie Walsh

Photo credit: Willie Walsh, CEO International Airlines Group. Walsh is retiring later this year. 349167 / 349167

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