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Air New Zealand's new CEO revealed

UPDATE 2pm: Air New Zealand's chief executive-in-waiting knew he could have a shot at the top job when he joined the airline last year.

Georgina Bond
Tue, 19 Jun 2012

UPDATE 2pm: Air New Zealand’s chief executive-in-waiting knew he’d have a shot at the top job when he joined the airline last year, but there were no guarantees.

Christopher Luxon left a role as chief executive of Unilever’s $US1.4 billion Canadian consumer products business to become Air New Zealand’s group general manager international airline in May last year.

Although the airline searched the global aviation industry and Australian and New Zealand business communities for Rob Fyfe’s successor, the preference was always to appoint someone from within the airline, chairman John Palmer said.

Mr Palmer told a press conference Mr Luxon knew he had an opportunity to become chief executive when he took the job, but there was no guarantee that would happen.

It was an important day for Air New Zealand and the country generally when it was able to attract a Kiwi working offshore back to a senior position.

The airline’s NZX listing had an important part to play in that. If it wasn’t a listed company, Air New Zealand wouldn’t be attracting top Kiwis to come back and work here, Mr Palmer said.

“That’s a very important part of privatisation,” he said, ahead of the proposed selldown of the government’s majority stake in the airline as part of its partial privatisation programme.

Mr Fyfe, Air New Zealand’s boss of seven years, will work closely with Mr Luxon over the next six months to ensure the chief executive’s baton is handed over seamlessly in December.

That will include time together overseas to cement Mr Luxon’s contacts in the international aviation community.

Mr Luxon has praised Mr Fyfe’s legacy at the airline.

“Rob will be too modest to say this,” he said. “But he really is the one who has transformed this company.”

Mr Luxon said he had learned aviation was a highly addictive industry.

He disagreed the airline’s growth options were limited. Air New Zealand was “uniquely positioned” to capitalised on immense amounts of growth in the Asia-Pacific region and the rapid increase in middle class populations internationally.

Growth in new markets would come through alliances and from flying and expanding the airline’s own metal, he said.

An executive team shake-up was not expected following Mr Luxon’s appointment, although his senior role as group manager international airline – reporting directly to the chief executive – will need to be filled.

Mr Fyfe said there was no immediate intention to increase Air New Zealand’s cornerstone stake in Australian airline Virgin Blue.

And he confirmed there were no further job cuts in the pipeline.

Just months ago he said the airline was eliminating 441 jobs – 175 to redundancy – as part of a plan to clawback profits after February’s disappointing half-year profit of $30 million, down $60 million or 61% on the same time last year.

Air New Zealand has warned its second-half result could come in lower than last year’s.

10am: Air New Zealand’s next chief executive, Christopher Luxon, has six months to step into Rob Fyfe’s shoes.

The airline’s long-awaited appointment of Mr Fyfe’s successor has just been announced.

Mr Luxon, who is group general manager international airline, will take over from outgoing chief executive Mr Fyfe at the end of December.

The 42-year-old has worked for the airline for just 13 months.

He joined  Air New Zealand last May last year after a career at multinational consumer goods company Unilever, where he was most recently president and chief executive of its $US1.4 billion Canadian business and 1500 employees.

Air New Zealand chairman John Palmer said in that short time Mr Luxon had proved his worth in the airline’s international business. His strategic, commercial and stakeholder management capabilities had been highly evident to the board.

“We have seen him affect positive commercial outcomes in our toughest operating division,” Mr Palmer said in a statement announcing the appointment this morning.
The board was pleased to have made an internal appointment after an exhaustive international search, he said.
Mr Fyfe said Mr Luxon “thoroughly deserves” to lead the airline.

“He is a world-class executive on every level and will challenge Air New Zealanders to lift the airline’s commercial and customer focus to an even higher level,” said Mr Fyfe.

The government plans to sell down its majority stake in Air New Zealand as part of its partial privatisation programme.

Mr Luxon was born in Christchurch and completed a Master in Commerce majoring in Business Administration at Canterbury University.

In the final year of his degree, he was recruited into the Unilever management trainee programme.

He became chief executive of Unilever Canada in December 2008.

He was also a member of Unilever’s North American leadership team that directed the company’s $US10 billion regional business, and sat on Unilever's Americas regional operations leadership team.

He also led Unilever's $US4 billion personal care business in the United States during 2011.

Mr Fyfe became CEO in late 2005, succeeding Ralph Norris. He announced his intention to resign in January.

He recently said he was still looking for his next challenge, having fended off rumours he was taking up a job within Richard Branson's Virgin Group empire and that he was interested in the top job at Telecom.

Air New Zealand shares have risen half a cent or .58% to 87c following news of the appointment this morning.

Georgina Bond
Tue, 19 Jun 2012
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Air New Zealand's new CEO revealed