Board names former Air Canada exec Ben Smith as Air France-KLM CEO
Benjamin Smith, CEO, Air France-KLM

Board names Air Canada exec Ben Smith as Air France-KLM CEO

ROISSY — After much speculation comes official word that the Board of Directors of Air France-KLM has announced the appointment of Air Canada exec Benjamin Smith as Air France-KLM’s new CEO.

In a statement issued by the board, Air France-KLM notes that Smith has played a major role at Air Canada over the past two decades, most recently as Air Canada’s President Airlines and Chief Operating Officer.

A statement from Air Canada says Smith will resign his position with Air Canada effective Aug. 31. 

Smith will replace former Air France CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac, who quit more than three months ago when staff turned down his offer of a pay deal aimed at halting a wave of strikes.

Smith, who has acted as chief negotiator during labour talks for Air Canada’s Rouge, will come on board amidst growing labour turmoil on the tarmac in Europe.

Pilots at Air France, Brussels Airlines and Ryanair have all staged work stoppages in recent months.

Smith will take up his duties at Air France-KLM at the latest on Sept. 30. In the meantime the board says the interim governance structure established on May 15, 2018 will remain in place. Anne-Marie Couderc, non-executive Chairman of the Air France-KLM and Air France Boards, and the Management Committee consisting of three members, will continue to perform their duties until Smith comes on board.

Upon arrival Smith will take over executive management of the Air France-KLM Group and will establish its organizational structure.

His priority? To revitalize Air France, to give a new strategic impulse to the Group and to work on a new leadership approach with all Air France-KLM’s teams.

The Board also announced that Smith will be appointed as soon as possible as Director of Air France-KLM, with the full support of the French State.

The Board says it will pull together as quickly as possible an updated Group’s governance structure as regards to the roles and missions of the non-executive Chairmanship of Air France-KLM and Air France.

Said Couderc: “The arrival of Benjamin Smith is excellent news for the Group. Benjamin is a world-renowned leader in the airline sector who successfully transformed Air Canada.

“As a man who prefers dialogue, he developed and implemented the historical long-term win-win agreements with the airline’s social partners for the benefit of Air Canada’s teams, the airline and all other stakeholders. Benjamin Smith will bring his in-depth knowledge of the sector and his unique energy to the job to resume dialogue with Air France-KLM teams around a shared vision and to define a new go-to-market plan that will address the challenges of strong global competition.

“His on-the-ground experience will ensure a team-oriented approach to increase customer satisfaction and brand’s value.

“On behalf of the Board, I welcome and assure him of our total support for the task ahead. The Board also wishes to thank the three members of the Management Committee for their unfailing dedication during this complex transition period.”

Smith himself had this to say: “I am very enthusiastic about this new opportunity. Air France and KLM are both airlines well known for the professionalism and commitment of their teams. I am well aware of the competitive challenges the Air France-KLM Group is currently facing and I am convinced that the airlines’ teams have all the strengths to succeed in the global airline market. I am confident in the Group’s capacity to become one of the world’s leading players.

“I look forward to earning the trust and respect of all teams, working together to win in this highly competitive and fast-changing customer service industry. I am approaching this new challenge with my passion for the aviation sector and with my deep willingness to listen to all stakeholders so we can work together and win. I have spent my entire career in this industry and I am convinced that the teams of the Air France-KLM Group are its strongest assets for its future success.

“I believe that over the past two decades I have developed very strong trust-based relations with my colleagues at Air Canada and I am looking forward to meeting the teams at Air France-KLM in September to begin working alongside them.

“I thank the Board of Directors of Air France-KLM to entrust me with this mandate.”

Air Canada President and CEO, Calin Rovinescu, said: “We wish Ben well in his future endeavours and congratulate him on his appointment. On behalf of our Board of Directors, our executive team and our 30,000 employees, I thank Ben for his significant contributions in many various roles at Air Canada over the past two decades.”

Rovinescu added: “There have been many architects of Air Canada’s highly successful transformation, and our deep and highly experienced leadership team will continue to deliver on our global ambitions, achieve our targets and drive our operational performance well into the future.”

Smith started out in 1990 at Air Ontario and in 1992 set up his own retail corporate travel agency, heading up the company for eight years. In 1999 he simultaneously took on a consultancy role for Air Canada before finally joining the group in 2002. He was successively Chief Commercial Officer and Head of Network Planning, before joining the Air Canada executive management team in 2007.

With files from The Canadian Press

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