John Barton, Next chairman, is a strong contender to be the next chairman of easyJet.
The board of Europe’s second-largest low-cost carrier by revenue is due to meet this week to select its next chairman, and Mr Barton is on a shortlist together with Charles Gurassa, easyJet’s deputy chairman, according to people familiar with the situation.
The appointment of a successor to Sir Mike Rake, easyJet’s current chairman, is important because this person will have a key role in managing the turbulent relationship with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the company’s founder and largest shareholder.
This relationship is expected to be tested once again this year if easyJet proposes placing a large order for aircraft.
Sir Stelios has spent the past few years calling for easyJet to curb its fleet expansion and focus on increasing shareholder returns.
easyJet declined to comment on when its board would meet to consider the appointment of its next chairman, or the candidates under consideration. Next also declined to comment.
The company reached a milestone in March when it entered the FTSE 100 after strong results that highlighted how low-cost carriers have flourished during the economic downturn.
Budget airlines in Europe are increasing their market share on short-haul routes at the expense of flag carriers led by Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and International Airlines Group, parent of British Airways and Iberia.
Since 2006, Mr Barton, 68, has been chairman of Next, the FTSE 100 clothing retailer, where he is seen as having done a good job at a mainly difficult time for the sector. He is also chairman of Catlin, the insurer.
He was briefly chairman of Cable and Wireless Worldwide, which issued several profit warnings after it split from its parent in a 2010 demerger and was later bought by Vodafone.
The career of Mr Gurassa, born in 1956 and easyJet’s deputy chairman since 2011, has been focused on the travel and tourism industries.
He was a director at British Airways and chief executive of Thomson Travel group, but has also been chairman of Lovefilm, Phones4u and Virgin Mobile.
EasyJet’s shareholders are due to get a vote on any significant aircraft order, and Sir Stelios and his family, who hold a 37 per cent stake, would be expected to oppose such a jet purchase, and could also sell his stock.
Another easyJet investor, who declined to be named, said the company’s choice of next chairman would be very important because of the relationship with Sir Stelios, and the impending board decision on whether to buy new aircraft.
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