Aer Lingus job to attract Irish and overseas candidates

Christoph Mueller announces departure from airline

The race to succeed Christoph Mueller in the €1.5 million-a-year top job at Aer Lingus is likely to attract candidates from both at home and abroad, say industry sources.

Aer Lingus took both the markets and industry by surprise yesterday when it announced that Mr Mueller is to step down as the airline’s chief executive next May, after close to six years in the role.

News of his departure came just days after Aer Lingus announced two senior appointments: that of TNT Express executive Bernard Bot, to chief financial officer, Reckit Benckiser as director and Federico Balzola, to personnel.

Chairman Colm Barrington said the mutually agreed departure date allows the airline time to conduct a thorough process to select a successor.


Industry sources pointed out that the €1.52 million earned by Mr Mueller last year is generous relative to the airline’s size.

“That is going to make it a well sought-after position,” said one yesterday. He added that the fact the business is profitable and growing at a time when other European flag carriers are struggling should add to its attractiveness.

Others suggested the airline's chief strategy officer, Stephen Kavanagh, as a likely internal candidate. He has been with the airline since 1988 and has been part of its senior management team for six years.

Howard Millar, who recently announced plans to step down as Ryanair's chief financial office at the end of the year, was ruled out as he will join the board of Aer Lingus's rival and largest shareholder in 2015.

It is understood that Mr Mueller is not planning to return to his native Germany, and intends to stay in the Republic and continue as chairman of An Post, to which he was appointed in June last year, and on the board of all-island promotional body, Tourism Ireland.

Mr Mueller joined Aer Lingus in July 2009 from TUI Travel. Before that he had worked in senior roles in German airline Lufthansa and auto-motive giant Daimler Benz

In a statement, he said that he thoroughly enjoyed his five years as chief executive.

“There have been very significant achievements delivered by the board and management team in that period of time,” he added.

Mr Barrington said that Aer Lingus had transformed into a strong, consistently profitable airline under Mr Mueller’s leadership.

“We will be very sorry to see Christoph leave Aer Lingus in 2015,” he said.

In 2008, the year before he joined, the airline’s operations lost €17 million, they earned a profit of €47 million in 2013.

When he took up the job, the airline was already going through a comprehensive cost-cutting and restructuring programme.

In recent years he has had to shepherd the airline through a hostile takeover bid from Ryanair.

He and his colleagues have also been dealing with a row with workers over a €750 million hole in the pension scheme it shares with Dublin Airport Authority. It is hoped this will be finally resolved by the end of this year.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas