English Corner

Who will sit in the Swiss executive chair? The wait continues. Picture: Adobe Stock

Swiss is lacking a CEO – and appreciation

Gregor Waser

Dieter Vranckx is leaving Swiss for Frankfurt these days. A successor is still not known.

It is astonishing how long the search for a CEO at Swiss has dragged on. On 23 February, it was announced that Dieter Vranckx would be leaving Swiss on 1 July to join the Executive Board of the Lufthansa Group. Today, 122 days after the announcement, there is still no successor in sight.

In these football-influenced days, the analogy with the embarrassing search for a coach at Bayern Munich quickly comes to mind. The Bundesliga giants failed to present a new coach for 98 days this spring - despite very prominent predecessors and a million-dollar salary at the ready. Cancellation after cancellation poured in and ultimately, a rather untested option was chosen out of necessity

There are various interpretations of the fact that the Swiss CEO seat is about to become vacant, but a primary reason is the lack of viable candidates. There are currently no viable candidates available. The current Chief Financial Officer Markus Binkert, who previously had hopes of becoming CEO, will be working for the SV Group in future. Dorothea von Boxberg (Brussels Airlines) and Annette Mann (Austrian Airlines) have not held their current CEO positions for very long. Heike Birlenbach has only been CCO at Swiss since the beginning of the year, while Bernd Bauer has double duties with Edelweiss and Discover Airlines.

And where is the expected, younger CEO candidate from the headquarters in Frankfurt? It was to be expected that LH Group CEO Carsten Spohr would conjure up a future Swiss CEO from his or her own management pool in order to introduce him or her to even greater responsibilities at the Swiss subsidiary airline. However, this is not yet the case. The LH Group still has other construction sites, such as the looming integration of ITA Airways, which will absorb considerable management resources.

The next turbulence is bound to come

As a result, the executive chair on Kloten's Obstgartenstrasse remains empty. Which, according to another interpretation, is not such a bad thing. The "NZZ am Sonntag" writes that there is no need to worry, "Swiss is now so closely intertwined with the Lufthansa Group that operations will continue to run smoothly." In addition, areas of expertise such as network planning and revenue management are to be transferred to the Group this summer.

Last year, Swiss posted a record profit of CHF 718 million – almost half of the Group's profit. The introduction of new A350 aircraft is on track, and operations are running smoothly. From Frankfurt's perspective, a vacant chief executive position seems to be a manageable problem.

But for how long? Just as sure as the Amen in church, the next turbulence in the aviation industry is likely to come sooner rather than later. Then Swiss will need a local CEO and not just a 0049 telephone number to Frankfurt.

Despite German ownership, Swiss remains an emotional company with which many Swiss travellers and many of the 8,600 Swiss employees identify. A face at the top simply belongs there - whether Belgian, German or Swiss. Leaving the executive chair vacant also has to do with a lack of appreciation.