People skills lessons can be learnt from BA

The experience of British Airways demonstrates the need for chief executives to get people management issue right, delegates heard.

Christopher Darke, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, said personal hostility towards former chief executive Bob Ayling fuelled disputes with staff during the 1990s.

“There has always been a fear among flight crew that he was trying to create more of a virtual airline and that they would no longer work for the core but be spun off into a myriad of other companies.”

He added, “Flight crew just did not like the man and that was a very real problem. That is not to say that the strategy and some of the things he did were incorrect. They were not. But a series of things did not go well [including] people management.”

Bob Carton, general manager of development flight operations, believes Ayling was made a scapegoat by staff. “The misfortunes of Bob Ayling were caused by the continual slide in our share price.”

Darke and Carton said the relationship between union and management deteriorated in 1996 to the extent that neither side spoke to the other for three months.

The relationship was only rebuilt after the union hired consultant People in Business.

Darke is optimistic about establishing a dialogue with Ayling’s replacement.

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