EasyJet chief Johan Lundgren to step down next year

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EasyJet’s chief executive Johan Lundgren is to leave the low-cost airline after seven years in the top job and will be replaced by chief financial officer Kenton Jarvis.

Lundgren, who started his career as a tour guide and joined easyJet in 2017, steered the airline through the pandemic crisis and has since sought to capitalise on the rebound in travel.

Analysts said picking Jarvis, who joined easyJet in 2021 and previously ran travel company Tui’s airline business, as Lundgren’s successor signalled that the carrier would continue with its current strategy.

From its main base at London Gatwick, Lundgren has focused the airline on lucrative routes to primary airports across Europe.

“While common in the US, CFOs stepping into the CEO role is less common in European airlines . . . In our view, Kenton should be seen as representing continuity with the existing strategy,” analysts at Bernstein said.

But like many airlines, easyJet’s management has struggled to convince investors to fully back its vision despite the current travel boom, and the airline’s shares are languishing 60 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

The leadership changes came as easyJet on Thursday reported reduced winter losses and said it expected another strong summer.

Its pre-tax loss for the six months to the end of March narrowed to £350mn, and the airline said it expected its planes to be fuller than last year over the summer peak.

“We are focused on executing the medium-term plan and related financial targets set out earlier this year and see Kenton as the ideal person to lead our executive team to that end,” easyJet chair Stephen Hester said.

The airline has successfully competed with national flag carriers such as British Airways, but some analysts and investors have questioned how much the business can grow in a mature market where capacity at many airports is constrained.

To the frustration of some investors, Lundgren declined to rip up his strategy during the pandemic and take on Ryanair and Wizz Air in a land-grab for market share in new countries during the industry-wide disruption.

Lundgren has instead focused on building a package holiday business at the airline, easyJet Holidays, which has grown rapidly and delivered a quarter of the airline’s pre-tax profits in its last financial year.

The carrier also shifted into growth mode in October when it ordered 157 short-haul aircraft and announced new financial targets including reaching pre-tax profit of £1bn through reducing its winter losses, upgrading its fleet with larger planes and growing easyJet holidays.

The company swung back to profit for the first time since the pandemic off the back of a record-breaking summer in the 2023 financial year, which covered the 12 months to the end of September.

On Thursday, Lundgren said the airline was “absolutely focused on another record summer”, and on track to achieve its financial targets.

“There are important things still to accomplish over the balance of the year, but when the time comes I will leave easyJet with a great sense of loyalty and of pride at the progress made,” Lundgren said.

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