No boss wants to see their company’s share price tumble to an all-time low, least of all on their first day in the job. Fortunately for Simon Breakwell, today confirmed as the AA’s new permanent CEO, the drop probably wasn’t because investors took exception to him.
The roadside recovery business has had a tough summer, with the acrimonious departure of executive chairman Bob Mackenzie in early August and a spike in costly breakdown call-outs. While today’s interim results reported a 35% hike in operating profits in the six months to July, sluggish growth of 1% in trading revenue and trading EBITDA clearly failed to impress.
Breakwell, who has been acting CEO since Mackenzie’s departure, will now lead a review of the business to ‘ensure that we strengthen the platform for sustainable growth, building on our foundations’. Is he the right man for the job?
The politics graduate has spent most of his career in transport and travel, except a spell as the ‘wash-up and coffee boy’ at his local Wimpy Bar and an early venture selling recycled chimney pots as garden ornaments. He joined the graduate scheme at BA, where he worked for eight years before making his name in the tech industry.
In 1996 he moved to Seattle, where he was one of the founding executives at Expedia, the travel comparison site that was spun out of Microsoft three years later and now has a market cap of more than $20bn.
For a year from summer 2012 he led the now-controversial taxi app Uber’s expansion into Europe. Since then he’s held a clutch of non-executive roles at travel tech firms, including holiday home websites Onefinestay and HomeAway.com, and checked back in to BA, this time as a member of its advisory board. He’s also a partner at VC firm Technology Crossover Ventures, which has backed the likes of Facebook, Netflix and Airbnb.
With a CV like that, could Breakwell inject some Silicon Valley-style dynamism into what remains a pretty old-school business? Time will tell.