Working with Willie
Keith Williams runs his empire from BA’s Waterside headquarters, set in remarkably leafy surroundings on the edge of the airline’s “Fortress Heathrow” base. The location overlooks BA’s still-shiny new Terminal 5 hub and is only a few miles along the Bath Road from the offices of former BA chief executive Willie Walsh – who now heads parent International Airlines Group.
“I sometimes say I’ve gone from the second most important job to the second most important job, because I’ve got a shareholder in IAG, and Willie is still my boss,” jokes Williams.
“I’ve got a narrower role than Willie had, but that is a plus. Because I’m not involved in the investor side any more, it frees up time – maybe even more than Willie had, and he was a very operational CEO – for me to deal with the day-to-day operations, the customers and to look at the finances.”
Williams is relaxed about Walsh’s high public profile, which means his predecessor – rather than him – is still seen by many as the face of BA. “Willie is such a good face within the industry that that is an asset for the group to use, and for BA to use,” he says.
He plays down the role that the change in CEO had on BA’s long-running industrial dispute with cabin crew, which was quickly resolved after his appointment. “Time is a great healer, and everybody wanted to move on,” he says.
To suggestions that his more conciliatory approach – compared with the confrontational style of his predecessor – paved the way to a peace deal, he says: “Personalities have to follow the mood of the colleagues that work for BA, and I think they were ready to move on.”