Kenya Airways’ new CEO ready for take off

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The 44-year old faces a tough task of flying the troubled airline back to profit making

By Ben Oduor

Sebastian Miskosz, a Polish national, has been appointed new Managing Director of Kenya’s flag carrier, Kenya Airways (KQ).

His appointment now puts to rest the six-month long search for a new CEO conducted by Spencer Stuart, an American global executive search and leadership consulting firm.

The 44-year old is set to assume office on June 1, 2017, taking over from Mbuvi Ngunze who resigned in November 2016 after a two-year stint of historic labor crises that, among other factors, saw the airline record poor returns.

Mr. Ngunze had opted to step down in the first quarter of 2017 but the airline management requested him to hold on as it searched for the successor. The lengthy global recruitment process came to a close early May.

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Sebastian Miskosz to the role of Group Managing Director and CEO with effect 1st June, 2017. Sebastian Miskosz has over 20 years of professional experience in executive management both in private and public sector,” announced KQ Chairman, Michael Joseph, during a press conference.

Tight experience

Prior to the appointment, Miskosz held various non-executive roles.

He was the CEO of eSky.pl, the leading Central European Online Travel Agent, before being appointed President and Chief Executive of LOT Polish Airlines, one of the oldest airlines in the world, a position he held twice while overseeing the turnaround of the company to realize positive results after recording losses for years.

He has also been a Director in Deloitte Business Consulting Warsaw office, and Vice President of the Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency (PAlilZ), a government agency that markets Poland to potential investors.

His rich experience, coupled with the bilingual knowledge of French, as well as English, Russian and his native Polish languages, has exposed him to various jobs in different countries.

Sources trace the onset of his career to 1997 with Arthur Andersen office in Paris, where he later moved to become the Managing Director of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland (CCIFP).

A graduate of the Institute of Political Studies in France with Master’s degree in Economics and Finance, Miskosz’s credentials seems to have satisfied the wishes of KQ management.

The management had earlier indicated its desire to hire an expatriate CEO, a move that would dawn a new beginning since 1999 when Brian Davies, a Briton, left the carrier.

On the other hand, the new MD has been assured support once he assumes office.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors of Kenya Airways and management, I wish to take this opportunity to offer Sebastian our most sincere congratulations on this appointment and confirm our full support to him as he takes over as Group Managing Director and CEO,” said Mr. Joseph, adding:

“We wish him every success as he assumes his new responsibilities. We have no doubt that under his leadership and guidance the airline, with the support of management and the Board will strive to greater heights and achievements as well as continue to regain its altitude as the Pride of Africa’.”

However, despite the assurance, Mr. Miskosz has a challenging task ahead- that of changing prospects of an airline which has for the last three years flown over turbulent times.

KQ’s turbulent past

Miskosz’s first critical task will be to erase the negative financial reports recorded by the airline within the last three years.

Its worst and the biggest loss in Kenya’s corporate history was the Sh25.7billion recorded in 2015 for the year ended March. This, the management said, was largely attributed to by tourism slump, among other factors.

KQ further recorded a slight increase in revenues by only 3.8 per cent to Sh110.1 billion despite a rise in passenger numbers during the year of review, figures it said were realized after management was forced to cut fares in a bid to compete with Middle East rivals.

Mbuvi Ngunze, the airline Chief Executive at the time, said KQ was set to borrow Sh20billion from the Cairo-based African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to finance its working capital as it focused on a long term strategy to return the airline to profitability.

Unfortunately, the following year, Kenya Airways plunged deeper into murkier waters when it posted Sh26.2billion net loss for the year ended 2016, a result the management attributed to the ‘12.9 per cent weakening of the shilling against the US dollar that cost the carrier Sh9.7 billion in foreign exchange losses.’

Sources say KQ, whose total loans stood at Sh113.2billion, had at the time saw an increase in finance cost by Sh2.3 billion to close the year at sh7billion.

“Ninety eight of our loans are dollar-denominated, including local ones. We got these loans when the shilling was trading at 75 or 78 units to the dollar and we are repaying them at 101,” Mr Dick Murianki, the airline’s acting finance director, was quoted by Daily Nation saying.

“As at the end of the financial year, we held cash in various countries such as South Sudan and Nigeria and the translation of these monetary assets has seen us lose significant value,” he added.

Therefore, the new MD will be expected to reduce expenses, repay remaining loans and fly the airline back to profitability zone- this even as he focuses his energy on boosting staff morale as well as public, investors and passengers confidence on the national carrier.

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