Air NZ well placed for growth, says new CEO

Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand 's new chief executive. Photo / supplied
Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand 's new chief executive. Photo / supplied

Air New Zealand's new chief executive says he is confident the airline is well positioned for growth in spite of tough times facing the airline industry.

Forty-one year old Christopher Luxon will take over from current chief executive Rob Fyfe at the end of December.

Luxon has been at the airline for a year, as the general manager of its international airline.

This followed a career at Unilever in North America, Asia and Australia. He was recruited by that company in his final year at university.

The Christchurch-born father of two said during the last 12 months there had been a "deep review" of the the airline's international operations. This part of the business is where to airline can make - and lose - money most quickly.

"There are real challenges there but I think we're on a pathway to deliver on our plans there."

Following a review of the business, he said he was confident it could improve profitability by $110 million a year by 2015.

Airlines around the world have been hit with high fuel bills for most of the past 12 months, a sharp drop in demand in Europe and a levelling out in Asia. In Australia Qantas faces a profit plunge due mainly to structural issues in the airline and problems making money on its long haul routes.

Luxon said the airline industry was "addictive."

"For me what I've learned over the last 12 months is that it's a highly addictive industry and maybe it's an insane way to make money. There's a lot of complexity to it and the real challenge for our business is how do we continue to protect and enhance the things we built into it.

While he would not spell out plans in detail, he said the airline would concentrate on ensuring the airline retained customer focus, excellent partnerships and corporate reputation.

"Internally we feel really comfortable with where we are with that plan and are on track for delivering that growth."

Air New Zealand's chairman John Palmer said Luxon's background in the fast moving consumer goods sector had prepared Luxon well for the Air NZ's top job.

"It suggests the transition from his previous marketing and product experience to a more intense customer experience is one where all of that background is extremely valuable."

Luxon said he felt "privileged" to be given the opportunity to lead the airline.

"Rob Fyfe has done an incredible job transforming Air New Zealand and steering it through some of the most difficult trading conditions in modern history." he said.

Palmer said the board had conducted an international search but was "delighted" that it has been able to appoint an internal candidate. It was a possibility he would get the role when appointed to the international airline job last May.

"Clearly he had an opportunity to become CEO but there was no guarantee that would happen."

Luxon joined Air New Zealand in May 2011 from Unilever where he was president and CEO of Unilever Canada since December 2008.

In this role he was responsible for leading Unilever's US$1.4 billion business and 1500 employees in Canada. and led Canada on a major change programme.

In addition to his Canadian responsibilities, he was a key member of the North American leadership team that directed Unilever's US$10 billion regional business and he also sat on Unilever's Americas regional operations leadership team. During 2011 he also led Unilever's US$4 billion personal care business in the United States.

Luxon's father was a sales executive for Johnson & Johnson and his mother a psycho-therapist counsellor.

At the age of seven Christopher and his family moved to Auckland and settled in Howick.

At the age of 15 he returned to Christchurch and completed his last years of High School before going on to attend Canterbury University to complete a Master in Commerce majoring in Business Administration.

In his last year at Canterbury University, Christopher was recruited into the Unilever management trainee programme where recruits would rotate in 6-12 month cycles around all parts of the business.

His first management role with the company was as brand manager of Unilever's detergent business in New Zealand before roles in Australia, London, Chicago and Toronto.

He has a Master in Commerce from Canterbury University.

Luxon and his wife Amanda have two children William aged 12 and Olivia aged 10.

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