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Owen Hembry

Business news editor of the New Zealand Herald

Sky's the limit for departing Air NZ chief

Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe is expected to have a wide number of employment choices both here and overseas. Photo / Richard Robinson
Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe is expected to have a wide number of employment choices both here and overseas. Photo / Richard Robinson

Air New Zealand should grab-a-seat on the board for exiting chief executive Rob Fyfe, says a leading market commentator.

Arthur Lim said the reaction towards Fyfe since it was announced he will step down at the end of the year had been overwhelmingly positive.

"That means he will be a good candidate for any of the bigger airlines out there to consider," Lim said.

Fyfe's skills were transferable to other industries and he could step down earlier if a suitable candidate was found, he said.

NZX heavyweight Telecom, which is on the look-out for a new chief executive, could be an option.

"They [Telecom] can always put in place interim management or drag out the existing arrangement for a while," Lim said.

However, New Zealand could be constraining for top-flight executives.

"When you've successfully run the national carrier ... the next thing in New Zealand might not prove as exciting as something much, much bigger overseas."

Lim expected Fyfe would carry on as a director at the airline. "Air New Zealand will be remiss if they don't appoint somebody like him with his experience and credibility to stay on the board."

Forsyth Barr head of research Rob Mercer said there were plenty of options for Fyfe who had a "pretty bold approach" to managing a business.

"The two awards that they've got for airline of the year, they do actually demonstrate that they're doing something right from a small footprint that New Zealand's got," Mercer said.

"I think most people that have followed the industry through the 90s and over the last decade will recognise that there is a greater sense of pride and culture within the organisation that has developed as a result of that whole can-do attitude."

Profit in the airline industry was challenging, with factors outside of management control including fuel prices.

"But the sort of things that they have done well is they bought aircraft well, they've been very creative in terms of what they've done with the interior of the aircraft, they've been creative in what they've done at the airport ... to speed up check-in and simplify the whole process of turning up to an airport and getting on an aircraft."

Fyfe's skill-set went beyond airlines, Mercer said. "I think that's what you want in a CEO, that the CEO doesn't need to be an expert in the sector, [he] needs to be someone that can lead a vision for a business to go forward and delegate operational [tasks], manage an executive team to implement that vision," he said.

"That's why I think that he'll be someone that will have a wide number of choices in terms of what sits out there."

New Zealand was a small country with a big-ambition mentality, Mercer said

"[We] need people like Rob Fyfe who can take something that we're doing really well in New Zealand and take on the world," he said.

"If he wants to live in New Zealand then there's no shortage of businesses that are doing a good job and are looking to expand globally ... maybe there'll be a challenge out there that he can see a vision to help get to that next stage."

A clear vision at Air New Zealand would make the job of finding a replacement easier and the industry had a cool factor. "I guess it's the thing that makes it exciting for a CEO ... 'can I beat the cycle, can I beat the industry, my competitors'?

"It's got quite a lot of challenges but from that point of view I think people are lured into the sector because it is actually pretty exciting."

- NZ Herald

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