Turbulence over bonuses as British Airways CEO Willie Walsh steps down
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Turbulence over bonuses as British Airways CEO Willie Walsh steps down

WILLIE WALSH bowed out of the top job at International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) this week after nine years in charge of the company.

IAG’s airlines include British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia.

However, Walsh’s last day at work on Tuesday, September 8, was marked by some turbulence.

Over 20 per cent of investors objected to the Dublin man’s annual bonus of £833,000 which took his 2019 earnings to £3.2million.

Willie Walsh also stands to pick up a potential 1.1 million shares, worth £5.2 million, under previously awarded bonus schemes over the next four years, should performance targets be met.

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This, of course, is not guaranteed under the current economic climate.

The IAG revealed only 71.6 per cent of investors approved executive pay awards at its annual shareholder meeting in Madrid on September 8, with around 20 per cent of votes going against the awards.

The deal was agreed before coronavirus hit the aviation industry.

There has been anger at the size of the pay-out in the light of thousands of airline staff losing their jobs, with others having to take reduced remuneration.

Walsh became CEO of British Airways in 2005, subsequently taking charge of IAG in 2011.

He was due to retire in March of this year, but agreed to stay on as the pandemic crisis hit, and has subsequently devastated the aviation industry.

The Dublin man, now 58, is one of the few international airline bosses who started out his career as a pilot.

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He joined Aer Lingus as a cadet aged 17, and worked his way up to Boeing 737 captain with the airline.

Parallel with his flying career, Walsh acquired a Master’s degree in management and business administration from Trinity College Dublin.

He subsequently became boss of then financially troubled Aer Lingus in 2001.

His round of cost-saving measures, including the elimination of 2,000 jobs, earned him the nickname “Slasher” Walsh.

But refiguring Aer Lingus as a low-cost carrier ensured its survival.

Walsh orchestrated the creation of IAG through the merger of British Airways and Spanish carrier Iberia.

The group also includes Aer Lingus and the budget airline Vueling.

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Walsh will be succeeded as CEO of IAG by the current boss of Iberia, Luis Gallega.