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Kenya Airways CEO Sebastian Mikosz to exit in December

Friday May 24 2019

KQ boss Sebastian Mikosz

Kenya Airways Group MD and CEO Sebastian Mikosz before the National Assembly Transport, Public Works and Housing Committee on November 29, 2018. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PAUL WAFULA
By PAUL WAFULA
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Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Sebastian Mikosz has resigned on "personal grounds", effective December 31.

In an internal memo to staff, Mr Mikosz said he had decided to shorten his contract.

"It is my personal decision and I have obviously discussed it with the board as well as my family," he said.

He noted that he had informed the Capital Markets Authority and the Nairobi Securities Exchange of his decision, in line with regulations since KQ is a listed company.

Mikosz, who speaks fluent French, English and Russian in addition to his native Polish, was appointed in 2017 and was seen as the fresh hire who would stop the airline's loss-making.

This was due to his experience turning around LOT Polish Airlines, the flag carrier of Poland.

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IMPROVEMENTS

The CEO noted that he remains "fully determined" to the plans for the national carrier's turnaround that were rolled out three years ago.

"I believe this is the ideal timing to begin a transition process to find someone who will continue with the turnaround initiatives," he said.

Mr Mikosz noted that the efforts have seen the company decrease its losses from Sh25 billion in 2014 to Sh7.5 million currently.

"I am convinced that KQ is on a good path for a full recovery," he stated.

The CEO also informed staff that he would be travelling to China to work on the launch of directs flights to Beijing.

He will also attend the International Air Transport Association General Assembly and carry out a business review in Bangkok.

BIG DECISIONS

Mr Mikosz has been pushing the Kenyan government to take decisive actions - to either nationalise the airline or change its mandate in a way that would remove the dividend-paying requirement from its shoulders, given its main competitors are State-backed.

“We must be given a different mandate,” he said when he visited Nation Centre this week.

The CEO and group managing director has argued that the ground for Kenya Airways is uneven owing to the shareholding structure of its rivals.

Its main competitors - Ethiopian, RwandAir and the three Gulf carriers - are all 100 per cent State-owned.

This means that to compete with them, Kenya's national carrier needs the kind of muscle that only the government can offer.

JKIA TAKEOVER

Mr Mikosz's biggest blow came recently when the government appeared to have had a change of heart on its planned merger with Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), which it was hoping to use to turn around its fortunes.

Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) did not help as it questioned the financial viability of the deal given KQ was the one in problems.

Unions have never been on its side - they have been demanding the removal of Mr Mikosz as well as the management team. 

Instead of focusing on the turnaround strategy, the chief executive has found himself having to explain just how much he and his expats earn.

'KITCHEN CABINET'

Mr Mikosz flew in with a team of polish expats, described by insiders as his ‘kitchen cabinet’ that were initially thought to have been needed for just six months.

Their skills have remained wanted at the airline almost two years later, to the chagrin of union officials.

Mr Mikosz defended his strategy, which he maintains is working, but it has not worked at the pace he needs to fly KQ out of the loss-making territory.

His quick wins include finalising the deal that saw banks convert their debt into equity, lifting a repayment burden that was choking its cash flows.

He also counts the direct flights to the US as another feather in his cap.