Air France pushes Pieter Elbers, the boss of KLM, towards the exit

It’s the end of a long standoff. Pieter Elbers, 51, emblematic CEO of KLM, the Dutch subsidiary of Air France, will leave his post at the latest at the end of his second term which ends in May 2023, announced on Thursday January 13th, Air France. -KLM. The group’s board of directors and supervisory board voted unanimously to dismiss Mr. Elbers. “Given the expiry of his second term, which offers the Supervisory Board a natural moment of reflection, we have, after consultation with Pieter, decided not to start a third term”, Cornelis Hart, chairman of KLM’s supervisory board, said on Thursday. Pieter Elbers, who is not hostile to a start, could even speed up the deadlines. “After two mandates, more than eight years, of leadership as CEO of KLM, I pass the baton with confidence”, he indicated. The rumor would send him, at least temporarily, to Delta Airlines, American partner of Air France-KLM.

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Strategic differences with Ben Smith

The ousting of the boss of KLM is undoubtedly rooted in the strategic differences between him and Ben Smith, since the latter’s appointment to the general management of Air France-KLM in the summer of 2018. When Mr. Smith advocated from his beginnings a complete integration of KLM into the Franco-Dutch company, Mr. Elbers championed the defense of the independence of his subsidiary. Proof of this opposition, KLM will refuse the entry of Ben Smith to the board of directors of the company. In 2019, the Dutch authorities even launched a secret stock market operation to acquire 14% of Air France-KLM’s capital at the same level as the French stake. But with the onset of the pandemic, the tide has turned. With billions of euros, France has resumed its leadership in the group with 28.6% of the capital against only 9.3% in the Netherlands, more stingy. Symbol of the victory of Ben Smith, Air France-KLM announced, in mid-December 2021, a giant order for 160 aircraft to equip the fleets of Air France, Transavia, but also KLM. A group order to which the boss of KLM had always refused.

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