25th Jul 2013

Is Flybe headed for a crash landing?

In the wake of the economic downturn, the Exeter-based airline Flybe has been struggling to stay in the air. With passenger numbers falling and fuel costs rising the airline has been flailing. As part of a major restructure initiated at the start of the year, in May the company announced that it will quit Gatwick Airport effective March 2014. At that time chief executive Jim French acknowledged "No business can swallow cost increases of more than 100% over five years and Flybe simply cannot bear such punitive rises." Of course one man’s loss is another man’s gain, and rival budget airline easyJet was on hand to snap up those arrival and departure slots for a reported £20 million.

Flybe reported full-year pre-tax losses of £40.7 million this year, compared to a loss of £6.2 million in 2012. As part of the turnaround the airline has been selling assets and limiting outgoings. So far routes have been cut and jobs have been axed. And interestingly, a recent announcement confirmed that acting CEO Jim French is stepping down after 12 years in the role, and a former executive from rival easyJet, Saad Hammad will take the control stick during this most turbulent of times, effective August 1st.

Hammad will join Flybe with plenty of airline experience – including a stint as chief commercial officer at easyJet and as a non-executive director at Air Berlin. While this experience will certainly stand him in good stead, Hammad will also face many new challenges as he takes up the position as chief executive.

The ability to transition effectively is an often overlooked leadership skill. Yet it is imperative for a successful start, and for continued success in any leadership role. Anticipating and understanding what challenges are likely to crop up helps new appointees to avoid derailment from the main priorities.

So, in order to transition smoothly into his new role Hammad should anticipate experiencing the following:

1. Time pressures

2. Being overwhelmed by immediate firefighting and task driven priorities

3. Finding the balance between moving too fast and moving too slowly

4. Challenges in building a high performing team

5. Reluctance to make difficult personnel decisions

Preparation is key. Hammad has set a difficult task for himself in guiding the turnaround of Flybe and he will be keen to make an impact from day one. By carefully contemplating the early challenges he is likely to face Hammad can be sure he is making the best start possible.

Hilda Goold



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