Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz is understood to be close to resigning from his position to take another job as Chairman of Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche. According to a report in NZZ am Sonntag, a Zurich-based Sunday paper, a final decision could come within the next two weeks.
Lufthansa officially stated it did not want to comment on rumours and speculation, however the company also did not deny the story. Company officials tell Aviation Week they have received signals that Franz might in fact be leaving soon.
The departure of its CEO would be a huge blow for the airline. Franz has been the mastermind behind the restructuring and renovation of Europe’s largest airline group. He took the helm in January 2011 after having run the group’s passenger airline business and subsidiary Swiss. At Lufthansa, Franz launched the €1.5 billion restructuring program Score that, most importantly, saw the transfer of European direct services to low-fare affiliate Germanwings.
Franz has also been behind numerous changes in middle management, bringing in outside expertise and hiring a larger share of women for leadership positions. During his tenure three new members joined the executive board – Simone Menne (CFO), Bettina Volkens (head of human ressources) and Harry Hohmeister (head of affiliated airlines) – and two left.
At Roche, Franz would replace Franz Humer as Executive Chairman, most likely in the spring of 2014. The Lufthansa CEO still lives in Zurich, Switzerland with his family and his five children go to school there.
In addition to reasons in his private life, other factors could contribute to the move: Franz has faced massive opposition to the changes he initiated. He has been dealing with lukewarm support in management and serious labor unrest. Earlier this month, Lufthansa terminated the collective bargaining agreements covering pensions and transitionary pay for pilots causing another bitter dispute that could well lead to further strikes soon.
If Franz leaves, Carsten Spohr (47) is seen as the most likely successor. Spohr currently runs Lufthansa’s passenger airline business and has publicly supported the CEO’s tough restructuring course. However, it remains to be seen whether Spohr will keep up the process of bringing in outsiders to the current extent. Spohr started at Lufthansa as a first officer before starting a steep career in management.
Another candidate could be Harry Hohmeister (49), who is CEO of Swiss International Air Lines. He joined the group executive board in July, overseeing Austrian and Brussels Airlines while continuing to run Swiss.
Lufthansa’s board of directors is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. The body is expected to approve a major order for more than 50 wide-body aircraft including what could be the first firm commitment for the Boeing 777-9X and a large buy of the A350-900. But the board will now also have to deal with the future of the airline’s CEO.