Rob Fyfe quits Air NZ, mum on future

Last updated 14:29 31/01/2012

Air NZ CEO Rob Fyfe resigns

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Air New Zealand's outgoing chief executive Rob Fyfe has said he doesn't know what he will do next, but Sir Richard Branson hasn't offered him a job.

"That's 11 or 12 months away so it's far too early to have committed myself to something new," Fyfe told a media conference this afternoon.

The national carrier confirmed speculation this morning that Fyfe would leave the company in December after more than seven years in the top job where he has forged a reputation as a "rock-star CEO".

"I've thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the Air New Zealand role - I think we've created a very innovative and service-oriented business," said Fyfe.

"How I can personally grow into a new challenge, I haven't yet figured out what that might be or where that might be.

"I'm not talking to anyone and I don't have anything in mind."

Fyfe said he was committed to steering the airline through continuing tough conditions.

Rumours that Fyfe would join another"rock-star" boss - Sir Richard Branson - at his Virgin Atlantic airline probably sprang from Branson's visit here late last year.

The pair buddied around on Auckland's Takapuna Beach late last year when Branson visited New Zealand, although Fyfe today revealed the boat race publicity stunt had left him with a broken middle finger.

Commenting before the official announcement, Australian aviation industry think-tank CAPA Centre for Aviation chairman Peter Harbison questioned whether Fyfe would stay with aviation given such positions were low paid compared to banking and telecommunications.

Fyfe has previously held positions at Bank of New Zealand, National Australia Bank and Telecom.

In a statement released today, Air New Zealand chairman John Palmer said Fyfe did not want to become a "road block" to the career expectations of his executive management team.

Contenders to replace Fyfe in the top job included short-haul general manager Bruce Parton and head of technical services Vanessa Stoddart.

But general manager of the international airline group, Christopher Luxon, could jump to the head of the queue having joined the company in May last year.

Most recently president and chief executive of Unilever Canada - a $1.4 billion business with 1500 employees - the University of Canterbury alumni is understood to also be a charismatic speaker in the mould of his current boss.

"We would expect significant international interest in the role and believe there are some very strong candidates from within Air New Zealand's existing executive management team," said Palmer.

"There is no fixed time for when the decision will be made on the appointment of Air New Zealand's next chief executive officer but a normal period would be roughly six months."

Fyfe is credited with turning the airline around after a taxpayer bail-out in 2001, and leading it to two awards for best airline in the world as judged by Air Transport World magazine.

However, the company's share price has fallen from above $1.50 to about 90 cents in the last year.

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The share price was down 2.2 per cent to 89c on the news this morning.

First NZ Capital analyst Jason Familton said Fyfe had been a successful chief, and there would be uncertainty in the market until a new airline boss was appointed.

While the market would view his departure as a loss, it had been rumoured for some time and didn't come as a shock, he said.

He expected chief financial officer Rob McDonald and general manager of short-haul airlines Bruce Parton to be in the running for the top job.

Morningstar Research senior equities analyst Nachiket Moghue said Fyfe's impending departure would be viewed negatively by the market as he would leave a leadership vacuum.

He predicted Air New Zealand's share price would probably drop as the market absorbed the news.

"He ran the business well. It was the best-run airline in the world in terms of its financial performance and share price compared to overseas airlines."


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