Sir Stelios quits easyJet board to fight for change of direction at budget airline

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The Independent Online

Easyjet is facing a major campaign of dissent from its biggest shareholder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who is standing down from the board in order to battle for a complete change of strategy at the company.

Sir Stelios, who founded the budget airline in 1995 and floated it on the stock market in 2000, has not had a day-to-day management role at the airline for a number of years, but has clashed repeatedly with its chief executive, Andy Harrison, in recent times.

The approach of Mr Harrison, who announced his departure from easyJet earlier this year, has been to expand its fleet and route map with the purchase of more than 80 new aircraft from Airbus. Sir Stelios has complained that this thinking has failed to add value to the company and prevented it from paying dividends.

"For some time I have firmly believed that the easyJet management was pursuing the wrong strategy for the expansion of the business... but the board had refused to take into account my recommendations," Sir Stelios said yesterday. "I have therefore decided the time has now come to take my case to fellow shareholders."

Sir Stelios is making his move just weeks before the arrival of easyJet's new chief executive, Carolyn McCall. The airline sprung a surprise with the hiring of Ms McCall, currently chief executive of Guardian Media Group, who has no airline industry experience, but insisted that her work in another consumer-focused business would prepare her for the role.

Sir Stelios, who with his family owns around 38 per cent of easyJet, said he would spend the next few weeks considering whether to requisition a general meeting of the company, in order to ask investors to "reject the management's strategy of relentless growth in aircraft numbers and focus on profit margin increase".

Sir Mike Rake, easyJet's chairman, said: "The board will conduct its next annual review over the summer in conjunction with the new management team. Therefore, I regret and am surprised at Stelios's decision to resign from the board."