the secrets of a controversial choice

Benjamin Smith, a 46-year-old English speaking Canadian born in Hong Kong and number 2 Air Canada, was appointed chief executive of the Air France-KLM Group on Thursday evening. Directors quickly fled their respective resort locations to attend a special meeting to formalize the staff. For several days the name of the lucky ones that leaked was leaked, which was a beginning of controversy, especially among the trade unions. For the first time, it will not be a Frenchman who is in charge of the national airline.

Read more – Air France: Benjamin Smith, the Canadian who has to restart the company

In early July, the nomination committee, chaired by Anne-Marie Couderc, also interim non-executive chairman of Air France-KLM on temporary basis since the departure of Jean-Marc Janaillac, had considered proposing a senior executive of Veolia, Philippe Capron, actively supported by an independent Parisian banker. Shareholders, including the state, holding 14% of the shares, have rejected the solution and called for a profile with solid international experience in the sector. It was at this moment, as the JDD wrote in mid-July, that the end of the reward jumped. Impossible to bring a big fish by asking him to divide his emoluments by three or four …

Ben Smith will benefit from an annual fixed amount of 900,000 euros

In total, the two leading hunters, Heidrick & Struggles and Egon Zehnder have identified about forty foreign leaders. They were only four in the last short list. Thierry Antinori, the French number 2 of Emirates, was not included because in particular a profile was considered "too commercial". Interviewed was Pieter Elbers, the boss of KLM, rejected early because he did not want to leave the Dutch company.

The financial package of the new CEO will be announced earlier this week. Ben Smith will benefit from an annual fixed remuneration of 900,000 euros, 300,000 higher than that of Jean-Marc Janaillac. It is also a bit more than he had at Air Canada. In addition, he receives an annual bonus corresponding to 120% of his gross salary if his objectives are achieved. In the case of outperformance, this figure can rise to 150%. Will be added, possibly, the fruits of a system of LTI (long-term incentives) with which he will generate 1 million euros after three years.

Ben Smith is, according to those who have met him, a lover who lives only for the air. He understands French very well and speaks a little bit. He will take office on September 30 at the latest. He will soon meet the teams of the group and appoint a director of Air France, the counterpart of Pieter Elbers at KLM (whose role will be strengthened at group level). This DG will be French, as will the non-executive chairman. But it is not impossible that Anne-Marie Couderc sees her mission to expand this position.

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