The departure of two senior executives at Cathay Pacific could spark a reshuffle of key talent as Hong Kong’s flagship carrier prepares to usher in a new generation of leaders faced with the challenge of guiding the company’s return to profitability.
Simon Large, one of the airline’s directors who oversaw all customer-related activities, has resigned and will return to Britain, while Philippe Lacamp has stepped down as chief risk officer after little more than eight months in the role.
The airline confirmed the Post’s earlier story on Thursday morning, and in a memo to staff CEO Augustus Tang Kin-wing thanked the pair for their years of service.
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“Both Simon and Philippe have contributed greatly to the success of Cathay Pacific,” Tang said. “We are truly indebted to both of them and they will be missed by all with whom they have worked over their careers. I wish them every success and happiness with their future endeavours.”
Tang said successors for Large and Lacamp would be announced at a later date.
The departures come ahead of Cathay’s traditional rotation of top executives, which usually takes place every three to four years, that will also decide who replaces Tang.
The sole person being considered was chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam Siu-por, who already has an influential say in running the company, an insider familiar with the plans said. All that remained to be decided was when he would take over.
Tang’s other deputy, chief operations and service delivery officer Greg Hughes, was awarded a one-year contract extension until June 2022, at which point he is expected to retire, the source said.
Among the potential candidates to succeed him were senior Swire executives Tom Owen, Alex McGowan, Neil Glenn and James Ginns.
The next set of leaders must decide how to steer Cathay to recovery after the economic devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. The collapse in travel demand brought the 75-year-old airline to the brink of bankruptcy, and only a financial rescue package from the Hong Kong government kept the company alive.
But late last month, the airline delivered an upbeat assessment on its financial health for the next six months, saying aggressive cost-cutting had slowed its monthly cash burn rate. While it still expected a “very substantial loss” in the first half of 2021, the amount would be somewhat lower than the HK$9.87 billion lost in the first half of last year, and the HK$11.78 billion in the second half of 2020, the company told analysts.
Going forward, the airline will also have to fend off new competition, including the upstart Greater Bay Airlines, which is seeking to fly more than 100 regional routes out of Hong Kong. The local market will be further shaken up by the opening of the long-awaited third runway at the airport by 2025.
Tang postponed his impending retirement and moved into the CEO role in August 2019 after the departure of Rupert Hogg amid controversy surrounding the airline over the actions of some staff members during the anti-government protests. Tang, who had held the top job at Swire’s Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company for 11 years, guided Cathay through the remaining months of the social unrest and the onset of the pandemic, which forced the company to cut costs, axe thousands of jobs and seek the government financial lifeline.
Lam on the other hand has grown into his role by being the public face of the airline’s response to Covid-19.
In an email to staff seen by the Post, Large cited the pandemic and his absence from his family for an extended period as reasons for his exit.
The airline earlier this week unveiled a lifestyle brand, seeking to lure customers to spend on goods and service other than flights. The Post previously revealed the airline’s intent to be more like Amazon or AirAsia in its quest to boost revenue that had collapsed as demand for travel disappeared.
It is also understood the departures in recent weeks include the airline’s general manager for global business services, Greg Shearer, while HK Express human resources director Stanley Yau left too.
Shukor Yusof, of aviation advisory firm Endau Analytics, praised the airline’s depth and diversity of local and female executives in its ranks primed to move up.
“Cathay has a lot of depth in their management whichever way they go,” he said, but noted the airline would ultimately pick an ethnic Chinese to lead the airline.
“It has got to be a Hong Kong person who is willing to work together with Beijing,” Yusof said. “Because we are still talking about the survival of the airline, not just the economics, but the future of the airline and the vision for Cathay Pacific 10 to 20 years from now.”
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