Thu, 13 Aug 2020

The Black Management Forum (BMF) has questioned the appointment of Philip Saunders as interim CEO of South African Airways, saying he has been part of the previous leadership at the state-owned airline.

Saunders joined SAA as chief commercial officer in August last year. He was appointed the airline's interim CEO this week.

The BMF is calling on Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, to reconsider the appointment. In the view of BMF President Andile Nomlala, "it sends a clear message to black professionals that they will always be secondary considerations".

According to information supplied by the DPE, Saunders has spent 12 years at the British Airways group. He has also worked as the chief commercial officer of Kuwait Airways, the chief commercial officer at Air Malta, CEO of Caribbean Airlines and vice president of commercial at global aviation alliance Star Alliance, of which SAA forms part.

The DPE said that, when Saunders joined SAA as chief commercial officer last year, he brought with him three decades of aviation experience.

"We firmly believe in non-racialism as a guiding principle as we seek to build a prosperous nation. The new, restructured airline has to quickly establish a platform for greater transformation in the aviation sector," the DPE responded to Fin24.

SAA went into business rescue in December last year following years of losses and billions of rands in state bailouts. On Tuesday, more than seven months after it went into administration, its creditors voted to proceed with a business rescue plan to cut staff and provide billions more in funding.

Nomlala said private capital and funders would first consider the quality of leadership before they agree on funding any organisation.

"Therefore, the borrowing that will be required by SAA will be in question because the quality of its leadership lacks the requisite skills to perform the necessary functions of business," said Nomlala.

In the view of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA and the SA Cabin Crew Association, Saunders has not been a CEO of any "significant organisation".

"His experience has been as an executive of smaller single airport airlines, nothing close to the complexity and scale of SAA," the unions said in a statement.

"We, however, understand that he is appointed on an interim basis, and we demand that the DPE must come up with a transparent process of appointing a competent CEO with the necessary expertise, experience and knowledge to lead the airline."

The National Transport Movement has welcomed the appointment Saunders and commits to working with him and other stakeholders "to make real the birth of a viable, globally competitive airline".

For NTM president Mashudu Raphetha, Saunders must be ready to prioritise transformation, improve working conditions, eradicate some "unfair discrimination" at SAA, avoid using "sporadic consulting companies", and avoid "job for pals" and corruption.

"We urge government to finalise the appointment of the interim board and eventually a permanent CEO," said Raphetha.

According to the DPE, Saunders will work with a new board and leadership team to set up "a diverse company that will contribute to broader attempts to make sure that the aviation sector is truly representative of the country's demographics".

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