Pieter Elbers will leave next year as boss of airline KLM. KLM’s supervisory board says that it has been decided “in close consultation” not to let Elbers go for a third term. His current term ends in May 2023.
According to the commissioners, the early announcement means that the search for a successor can start in time. In addition, after the second term, the restructuring plan being implemented under Elbers would be largely completed.
Elbers says in a brief response that he will continue to commit himself fully to KLM until the end of his term. “I am extremely proud of this company and its wonderful employees. They remain KLM’s strength, especially in these hectic and difficult times.”
Elbers took the helm of KLM at the end of 2014. He was the successor of Camiel Eurlings, who at the time was set aside after 1.5 years of employment. Major steps were taken under Elbers’ leadership until the corona crisis. As a result, KLM’s profitability was clearly improved and more investments were made. Elbers did ask for sacrifices from the staff.
In 2019, there was a lot of talk about Elbers’ reappointment after his first term. Elbers would be seen by the management of Air France-KLM as an obstacle to the plans of the parent company to change the structure. He was repeatedly opposed to plans that would limit KLM’s autonomy. At the time, at least 25,000 KLM employees signed a petition for the reappointment of Elbers.
Elbers is also a member of the Executive Committee of Air France-KLM. He also gets out there.
The government praises Elbers’ work at KLM. She has “great appreciation for Mr Elbers’ many years of dedication to the development of Dutch aviation and to KLM in particular. He has done everything he can to guide KLM through the crisis as best as possible and to work on recovery,” said Ministers Sigrid Kaag (Finance) and Mark Harbers (Infrastructure).
Staff fears for Dutch interests within Air France-KLM
KLM staff will be particularly disappointed that Pieter Elbers will step down as CEO of the Dutch airline next year. He has always stood up for the Dutch interests within the Air France-KLM aviation combination, and according to director Chris van Elswijk of the cabin union VNC, it remains to be seen whether a successor will succeed in the same way. “But we respect his decision, because a CEO no longer stays in his position for 20 or 30 years.”
Van Elswijk explains that Elbers was generally loved by Dutch personnel because of the ongoing “fight” for control of KLM with Air France-KLM boss Ben Smith.“It is very annoying at the moment for KLM’s positioning within the group. It remains to be seen whether the successor will continue to represent Dutch interests. We always look forward to good cooperation. A new CEO will have to show the same attitude towards Dutch interests.”
Birte Nelen of FNV Cabine agrees that Elbers was respected by the staff. “There is a lot of appreciation for what he has done during the corona crisis.” In recent years, Elbers and his fellow board members provided substantial state aid, but this required a reduction in the workforce. Nelen is not immediately afraid of more interference from parent company Air France-KLM. “Good agreements were made during the merger and they are still in place. We will make sure that is adhered to.” FNV will also take a critical look at who will succeed Elbers.
The union De Unie thinks it is too early for Elbers to leave, says chairman Reinier Castelein. According to him, KLM “needs a strong chairman of the board who can pull KLM out of the corona crisis, but above all who can offer the anti-aviation cabinet a response”. The early announcement weakens KLM’s position in the “ever-flaming debates about power and money with Air France,” Castelein said. “With the historically great challenges ahead, a captain change is anything but convenient.”
Pilots’ union VNV praises the “important contribution” that Elbers has made as CEO “and before that in other positions” to the current position of KLM. The union further calls him “a committed airline man” and points out the challenges that KLM will face in the coming period.