Stelios Haji-Ioannou has resigned from the board of easyJet to campaign against the expansion of the airline he founded.
Haji-Ioannou issued a statement on Friday saying: “I firmly believe the easyJet management was pursuing the wrong strategy for expansion of the business. How can you buy 200 aircraft and create no wealth for shareholders. The time has come to take my case to fellow shareholders.”
Sir Stelios will still stand down immediately, with a second non-executive director Robert Rothenberg, resigning alongside him.
He will seek to persuade shareholders to reject the airline’s strategy and perhaps renegotiate its aircraft orders with Airbus.
EasyJet has 59 aircraft on order, with an existing fleet of 190. Haji-Ioannou and his family retain a 38% stake in the carrier.
Earlier this week Sir Stelios criticised outgoing chief executive Andy Harrison, complaining about the airline’s low profits – which he blamed on too rapid expansion. EasyJet lost £79 million in the six months to the end of March – a traditionally difficult period – but is forecast to make more than £100 million on the year.
Harrison has just been replaced as chief executive by Carolyn McCall, formerly in charge of Guardian Media Group. He has run the airline since December 2005. It is believed his departure follows persistent criticism from Sir Stelios.
The airline may have to drop the Easyjet brand, following Haji-Ioannou’s departure. According to reports, plans have been drawn up to change the name.
“You would expect us to have looked at this and we have. We do not want to lose the ‘easy’ name but if you are facing a flood you put up flood barriers,” a board member told The Sunday Times yesterday.