Former Air Canada executive Benjamin Smith has been named as Air France-KLM’s new chief executive, three months after his predecessor quit amid severe disputes with labour unions. The new chief will take up his duties in late September this year. In the meantime, Air France-KLM say the interim governance structure established in May 2018 will remain in place.
Canadian-born Smith is the first foreign CEO in the company’s history, sparking criticism from some French labour unions. Nine organisations have objected to the appointment of a foreigner in the name of “the defence of our national airline’s interests”, with union representatives gathering on August 27 to discuss further strike action.
In a statement, Smith said: “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” he continued.
Anne-Marie Couderc, non-executive Chairman of the Air France-KLM and Air France Boards added: “[Benjamin] 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.”
Prior to joining the group, Smith held several high-ranking positions at Air Canada. He was successively Chief Commercial Officer and Head of Network Planning, before joining the Montreal-based carrier’s executive management team in 2007.