In his roughly four-year tenure as top boss, KLM CEO Pieter Elbers has molded his Dutch airline into the top performer in the Air France-KLM Group, leading it to major profits while its French cousin struggled with labor and operational issues.
Yet last week, I suggested new Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith should have the right to remove Elbers if he wished. Smith, I noted, was brought in to meld cultures and operations at the two airlines, which have maintained mostly separate management structures since the 2004 deal that created Air France-KLM. I argued that Smith, as the ultimate boss, deserved final say on personnel — even if it meant removing a highly respected executive.
Many readers did not agree, writing me to say it made no sense to replace the CEO of the airline that for years propped up the group. It is a compelling argument: How can you punish an executive for good work?
This week we learned Elbers will stay, though his role could change. He'll remain CEO of KLM, but reports indicate he'll work more with colleagues in Paris, as Smith seeks to create a more cohesive operation. For the group, he'll be deputy CEO, with Air France CEO Anne Rigail.
On paper, it is an elegant solution. Elbers, who is respected by Dutch politicians and labor groups, will remain, while Smith can still push for more integrated operations. But will it work? Or will Elbers feel marginalized?