In The Spotlight: Quiet man of the airline industry bitten by big beast Sir Stelios

Andy Harrison
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The Independent Online

In an industry full of big egos and big mouths, Andy Harrison is something of an outrider. The low-key easyJet boss has sought to stay out of the limelight as much as possible in an industry which always has a high profile.

Yesterday, he found himself smack-bang in the middle of a spotlight he has so diligently tried to avoid when one of the big beasts in the airline jungle – his biggest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou – growled at him just as he was preparing for a quiet departure to Whitbread.

Sir Stelios reportedly told colleagues that Mr Harrison was "overrated", complaining that the only thing he had increased was the "size of his bonus".

Part of his complaint was an apparent "love affair" with Airbus which has been the mainstay of the expansion of easyJet's fleet to 189 at the end of March 2010 from 122 when Mr Harrison joined. It seems that the boardroom tensions which have plagued easyJet have erupted into life again.

How Michael O'Leary (whom no one could accuse of being low profile) must have been smiling as he instructed his energetic PR teams to unveil yet another Ryanair seat promotion.

Mr Harrison must be wishing he could fly away in the Cessna he shares with friends and which he pilots himself to the calmer climes of the Channel Islands and France when he's not chained to his desk, or banging his fist down on it as he watches the latest bad news from Anfield flash up on the BBC (he's a big Liverpool fan).

Thankfully, Whitbread is an altogether calmer sort of place. The only things it has in common with easyJet are a no-frills culture and a horrible colour scheme (at the company's cheapo Premier Inn chain).