Iberia boss Luis Gallego’s promotion to succeed Willie Walsh as chief executive of IAG elevates a company insider who has run the Spanish flag carrier for almost seven years to one of the biggest jobs in the global airline industry.
The Spaniard was one of Mr Walsh’s top lieutenants at IAG, the parent company formed by the £5bn merger between British Airways and Iberia in 2011.
Mr Gallego steered Iberia through a difficult period after taking over as chief executive of the ailing airline in 2013 at a time when it was racking up huge quarterly losses and engaged in a long-running battle with its workforce. He became executive chairman of the airline in 2014.
He oversaw a politically sensitive and contentious restructuring, which involved untangling the carrier’s unwieldy cost structures as it struggled to compete with nimbler rivals. Iberia returned to profitability in 2014 after shedding thousands of jobs and cutting the salaries of many remaining employees, as well as revamping its branding and modernising its fleet.
Mr Walsh, the key architect in the creation of IAG, said Mr Gallego had shown “true leadership over the years”.
James Goodall, an airlines analyst at broker Redburn, said Mr Gallego “has an exceptional record, turning around Iberia over the past five years”.
“IAG has good succession planning in place and we see the promotion of Luis Gallego as a good option,” he added.
A graduate in aeronautical engineering and business management, Mr Gallego began his career training officers in the Spanish air force before moving into senior positions in the country’s airline industry. These included stints at regional carrier Air Nostrum and the now defunct Clickair, which was merged into low-cost carrier Vueling, which is also part of IAG.
Mr Gallego, who comes from the industrial district of Getafe outside Madrid is a passionate fan of the Real Madrid football team. “These days they don’t let me have a television in my office,” he once told Marca, the Spanish sports newspaper. “But I couldn’t study unless I had the television on [showing sport] . . . I would get hugely bored.”
Mr Gallego, who will begin his new role at the end of June, said it was “a huge honour” to take over as group chief executive. “It is an exciting time at IAG and I am confident that we can build on the strong foundations created by Willie.”
One of Mr Gallego’s first tasks will be to see through the integration of Spanish airline Air Europa, a deal IAG announced in November and is expected to close in the second half of this year if it can gain regulatory approval.
Timeline of an airline executive
Willie Walsh is chief executive of Aer Lingus, where he had joined as a cadet and become a pilot aged 17. He is dubbed “Slasher Walsh” after he cut 2,000 jobs and sold the company’s art collection
Mr Walsh takes over as chief executive of British Airways, a role he holds until 2011
BA, American Airlines and Iberia agree to co-operate commercially on flights between Europe and North America after more than a decade of talks
Mr Walsh moves to take the helm of IAG after he orchestrated the merger of BA and Spain’s Iberia to form the holding company International Airlines Group
IAG buys Ireland’s national airline Aer Lingus
Qatar Airways increases its stake in IAG to more than 20 per cent
Computer problems ground several British Airways flights to become one of the worst IT failures to strike a global airline
IAG launches low-cost long-haul airline Level
IAG eyes the possibility of taking over Norwegian Air, buying then disposing of a chunk of the low-cost carrier’s shares when its proposals are rebuffed
BA suffers first pilot strike in its history
IAG reports a fall in profits following the pilots’ 48-hour strike
Mr Walsh says he plans to retire within two years, keeping to a promise he would go before he turns 60 on October 25 2021. On the same day IAG says it will almost halve its planned expansion over the next three years
January 9 2020
Mr Walsh says he will retire in March
Copyright The Financial Times Limited . All rights reserved. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.