EasyJet founder voices support for pivot into tour operating

EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou appears to have resolved differences with the airline’s senior management and voiced praise for expansion into tour operating.

Haji-Ioannou, still the budget airline’s biggest shareholder with a 15% stake, conceded that his war of words with chief executive Johan Lundgren was due to a fear that EasyJet would not survive the pandemic.

Speaking to the Sunday Times ahead of the carrier’s expected return to the FTSE 100 index this week after four years, he said that he never expected the easyJet holidays business “to be substantial” and was pleasantly surprised.

Lundgren and chairman Stephen Hester, former chief executive of banking group RBS, have sought to pivot EasyJet towards selling holidays as opposed to just flights, targeting a gap in the market following the collapse of Monarch and Thomas Cook Group. 

The company registered record summer profits in November and reinstated its dividend. 

Haji-Ioannou founded the budget airline in 1995 and floated it on the stock exchange in 2000. But as he took a back seat, relations with former and current executives deteriorated and he quit the board after ten years following a row over its expansion plans.

He told the newspaper: “The last time I was critical of Johan and his management team … I was really scared that the company would go bankrupt. But he was the one who stuck with it. 

“He raised the money. He continued to grow the business. He invented the holiday business. So I think he deserves credit as well.”

He added: “As always with public companies, you have to share the credit around. But definitely, Johan deserves some credit.”

These were reported to be Haji-Ioannou’s first comments since criticising the board of the airline over a decision to press ahead with a large order of Airbus aircraft during the pandemic.

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