IAG boss tells packed IIBN meeting it was too personal so had to be convinced
The boss of BA and Aer Lingus’s parent company, IAG Chief Executive Willie Walsh, had to be very strongly persuaded to buy the Irish flag carrying airline, he told an Irish business network last week.
Straight-talking Mr. Walsh, a former pilot who has run both the British and Irish flag carriers, was the star attraction at the Irish International Business Network event at Deutsche Bank in the Square Mile.
The Dubliner also chairs Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) which manages the country’s debt, an entity which has been fundamental to Ireland’s economic recovery. He told the packed audience that contrary to popular belief he had, in reality, been extremely reluctant to buy Aer Lingus because of his own past relationship with it.
Mr. Walsh had been central to rescuing the airline and preparing it for privatisation before moving to British Airways. He said Deutsche Bank had persuaded him that Aer Lingus would be a very good fit for IAG’s portfolio and plans of retaining national brands and their respective customer loyalty and came up with a ‘generous’ financial offer that made sense.
He also revealed that what was reported as an attempted management buy-out of Aer Lingus while he ran it was not quite what it seemed. Mr. Walsh said that the Irish government at the time seemed to be wiling to let all the hard-earned restructuring of Aer Lingus go into reverse so he and his senior colleagues wrote to it to ask to be allowed explore a takeover bid.
Eventually I just said to him ‘Would you ever just f**k off ’
The intention had always been, he said, not to take over but ensure the restructuring momentum continued with a view to eventual privatisation. Mr. Walsh, an avowed admirer of Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary as well as a business rival, told a number of light hearted stories at the expense of the budget airline chief executive’s public image.
He told the packed audience: “If any of you know the Horseshoe Bar in Glasgow you’ll know it is to the one in Dublin (at the Shelbourne Hotel) what Ryanair is to BA. I was there for a drink after a business meeting and some fella came up to me and said ‘You’re him, aren’t you? You’re Michael O’Leary.’ I said I wasn’t and he insisted and said he’d seen me on the telly and even called across to his friend and wouldn’t quit. Eventually I just said to him ‘Would you ever just f**k off ’.
He paused for a moment and said ‘See, I knew it was you.’”