The first non-French boss to lead Air France-KLM is joining from Air Canada.
The Canadian carrier’s chief operating officer is taking the helm at the European giant which has been buffeted by industrial action.
Benjamin Smith fills a void left left by Jean-Marc Janaillac, who stepped down as chairman and CEO in May in the wake of protracted strikes and a staff vote against his final pay offer.
Smith, described by the carrier as a “reputed senior airline industry executive at international level”, joins Air France-KLM on September 30.
“He has played a major role at Air Canada over the past two decades, where he has been a key player in the airline’s economic and commercial development, its transformation, its value creation and the engagement of the teams,” Air France-KLM said.
Smith has worked at Air Canada since 2002 and was the prime mover behind budget brand Air Canada Rouge.
He will take over executive management of the Air-France-KLM Group and will establish its organisational structure.
“He will be in charge as a priority to revitalise Air France, to give a new strategic impulse to the group and to work on a new leadership approach with all Air France-KLM’s teams,” the airline group said.
Smith’s appointment has the full support of the French government.
An updated group governance structure covering the non-executive chairmanship of Air France-KLM and Air France is to be announced “as quickly as possible”.
Anne-Marie Couderc, who has been leading the airline in an interim role, said: “Benjamin is a world-renowned leader in the airline sector who successfully transformed Air Canada.
“As a man who prefers dialogue, he developed and implemented the historical long-term win-win agreements with the airline’s social partners for the benefit of Air Canada’s teams, the airline and all other stakeholders.
“His on-the-ground experience will ensure a team-oriented approach to increase customer satisfaction and brands value.”
Smith added: “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.
“I am approaching this new challenge with my passion for the aviation sector and with my deep willingness to listen to all stakeholders so we can work together and win.
“I have spent my entire career in this industry and I am convinced that the teams of the Air France-KLM Group are its strongest assets for its future success.”
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