Willie Walsh, the chief executive of International Airlines Group (IAG), the owner of British Airways and Iberia, is stepping down after 15 years as the head of the company. Walsh will retire as chief executive on March 26 and relinquish his IAG board seat at the end of June. Luis Gallego, the chief executive of Iberia since 2014, will succeed Walsh.
Walsh started his career as a pilot for Aer Lingus in the late 1970s and rose through the ranks to become CEO of the Irish airline in 2001. He was named chief executive of British Airways in 2005, and in 2011 he led the merger of BA with Spain’s Iberia to create IAG. He then became CEO of the group which he has grown to include Aer Lingus and other discount carriers, including Spain’s Vueling and long-haul carrier Level.
During his tenure, Walsh became known for his focus on costs, first at Aer Lingus where he cut jobs and turned the loss-making carrier around, and then at BA where he has reduced costs to compete with rival low-cost carriers. A dispute with BA pilots over pay last year led to their first ever strike last September forcing BA to cancel almost all of its flights for two days.
In his new role as IAG’s chief executive, Gallego will be tasked with overseeing the completion of IAG’s 1 billion euro acquisition of Spain’s Air Europa which has raised anti-competitive concerns.