easyJet Has A New Chair: What This Means For The Low-Cost Carrier

easyJet has today announced the appointment of a new chairperson. The selected chair is Stephen Hester, a highly experienced London City chief executive and well-known turnaround expert. He will step in to fill the role that John Barton has held for almost nine years on December 1st this year.

easyJet A320
easyJet has a new chairman. Photo: Getty Images.

Turnaround expert

easyJet has today revealed the appointment of a new chair for the airline, announcing Stephen Hester as the person tasked with driving the company’s future fortunes. Hester comes with a track record of multiple high-profile roles in a variety of businesses and is known as something of a turnaround expert.

Notably, Hester was parachuted in to the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) during the 2008 financial crisis. He led the bank through its close call with bankruptcy and its part nationalization, steering it out of the crisis until 2013. After that, he joined RSA Insurance, another company that required significant turnaround input.

Hester left his role at RSA earlier this year after the insurer was broken up and sold to two overseas buyers. He reportedly negotiated the final terms of the sale from a hospital bed while recovering from surgery. Since May, he’s been a free agent, but has been very open about his desire to secure another chairman role.

Stephen Hester
Hester is best known for his role in turning around failing bank RBS. Photo: Getty Images

John Barton, the current chair of easyJet, commented on the appointment saying,

“I am delighted that Stephen has been appointed as the next Chair of easyJet. His significant and varied experience leading major international businesses in regulated industries, coupled with his outstanding strategic thinking will serve the airline well as it leads the recovery in the post-pandemic era, complementing and adding to the skills of the existing Board and leadership team.”

Hester is clearly looking forward to the challenge of steering easyJet out of the pandemic crisis. He said today,

“I see so many opportunities for this iconic brand in the coming years, all underpinned by its proven business model, unrivalled network and loyal customer base. I am convinced we can be winners in the European airline industry of the future, serving customers well and driving attractive shareholder value. I can’t wait to join the easyJet team. “

The new chairman will join easyJet from December this year.

easyJet, Berlin Brandenburg, Berlin Airport
Hester will join the airline in December. Photo: Getty Images

What does this mean for easyJet?

The appointment of such a well-known figure with a strong track record of leading companies out of crisis is telling. Although easyJet is starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not out of the woods by a long way yet.

Since the start of the pandemic, easyJet has lost more than £2 billion. Last year’s annual loss was the first in its quarter of a century history. Although things are getting easier by the day, the carrier still only projects flying around 60% of its 2019 capacity in the third quarter.

Winter is traditionally a quieter time for airlines like easyJet with a strong focus on leisure travel. While borders may be more open as we head into the fourth quarter, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a recovery for the industry. Although the airline has done a sterling job of raising capital to survive the downturn, it hasn’t ruled out needing additional capital raises before the crisis is over.

easyJet, Berlin Brandenburg, Berlin Airport
Despite steady improvement, easyJet is still flying around 40% less than its 2019 capacity. Photo: Getty Images

Johan Lundgren, CEO of the airline, remains upbeat about the future, and clearly believes Stephen Hester is the right person to help steer the airline out of the crisis. He commented,

“I am very much looking forward to working with Stephen at this important time in our history as we continue to build on our many strengths and take advantage of the many opportunities that lie ahead following the pandemic.”

Lungren has previously said that, although the past 18 months have been some of the toughest in its history, he firmly believes easyJet will leave the pandemic stronger and better than ever. With Hester on the team, the future is looking ever brighter for the orange airline.