Stelios sticking his EasyOar in again

EasyJet's founder still can't keep his mouth shut when it comes to the company's board structure. And all that wind is only adding to the turbulence...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Sep 2011
Love is most definitely not in the air when it comes to easyJet. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who along with his family owns 37.5% of shares, has called for yet another boardroom shake-up at the airline he founded. It’s no surprise that the airline has hit back, having a go at Stelios for acting ‘inappropriately’, in trying to ‘override normal corporate governance protocols’.

This latest spat took off with Stelios calling for non-exec director Professor Rigas Doganis to be kicked off the board. Now it’s unlikely Stelios has any real beef with Doganis, given that Stelios approved his re-election to the board as recently as February. Indeed he admits it’s just part of his battle against easyJet’s aircraft purchase deal with Airbus, which Doganis voted for. ‘This is the only way we have to demonstrate to this board that they no longer enjoy the trust of the holders of the majority of the shares in this company,’ said Stelios. It’s either that or doing a Gerard Depardieu and micturating on the aisle carpet of one of its new planes.

Of course this isn’t the first time Stelios has piped up like this. Earlier in the year he called for the head of Sir David Michels, and last year hastened the departure of former chief exec Andy Harrison. And he’s sounded off about the aircraft deal before – back in July he sent an 11-page open letter to the board attacking the deal as ‘value-destroying’ and saying the board needed shareholder consent before going ahead.

The board must be increasingly frustrated that the old boss just won’t leave them alone. But can you blame Stelios for chipping in? He reckons the strategy of the business is imprudently focused on sales growth at the expense of profit margin. And given the size of his interest – close to 40% of shares – he stands a decent chance of success. We can’t help wondering whether his real motivation is that he’d simply like to see a greater cash return from his easyJet shareholding.

Yet is it really in anyone’s best interests to keep chipping away at the board like this? It’s a little like trying to win your argument that a pilot shouldn’t be flying a plane – by yanking him away from the controls at 30,000 feet…

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