A new CEO for Cargolux… and more

Cargolux 747-400F noseloadingThe Board of Directors of Cargolux today announced several appointments and promotions, including the hiring of Dirk Reich as President and CEO. We’ll get to the rest of the announcements shortly, but first, some background…

In 2013, Luxembourg-based Cargolux outperformed the industry by a huge margin, and is expected to report a 19% increase in cargo traffic for the year. But this performance, in a year that saw most carriers happy to have their cargo traffic increase at all, has gone all but unnoticed as one senior executive after another has jumped ship.

The reason, as we have reported in the past, is that while Cargolux may have recovered strongly in 2013 from the slump of the previous few years, it also committed to a major change in its future direction as part of an agreement to sell a 35% equity stake to Henan Civil Aviation Development & Investment Co (HNCA, a financial entity controlled by the government of China’s Henan province).  The terms of that agreement were negotiated by the carrier’s Board and the Luxembourg government, over the objections of several of the company’s top executives, who saw the agreement as contrary to Cargolux’s interests.

And so, they left. The first to go was Senior VP Sales & Marketing Robert van de Weg. Then COO Peter van de Pas. Then Head of Asia Pacific Matthew Ma. And most recently Board member Paul Mousel (reportedly due to his disagreement with the rest of the Board over the bringing in of Robert Song — see below). Not only did they leave, three of them are now working for Cargolux’s competitors – Mr. van de Weg and Mr. van de Pas in senior positions at Volga-Dnepr Group (parent of AirBridge Cargo), and Mr. Ma reportedly at Qatar, where he joins former Cargolux CEO Ulrich Ogiermann. 

Which brings up the matter of the CEO position itself. When Mr. Ogiermann stepped down, Cargolux appointed recently-hired CFO Richard Forson to take his place on a temporary basis. For the past year there has been increasing pressure on the Board to either make Mr. Forson’s position permanent, or promote or hire someone else for the job. The exit of Robert van de Weg and Peter van de Pas – two of the most highly-respected individuals in the air freight industry – made that task both more urgent, and more difficult.

But, effective today, Dirk Reich replaced Richard Forson at the CEO’s desk, while Mr. Forson continues as Senior VP and Chief Financial Officer. According to the Board, Mr. Reich “has previously been a Member of the Management Board and Executive Vice President at Kuehne & Nagel International AG. Prior to joining Kuehne & Nagel as Senior Vice President Corporate Development, Reich held various positions with Lufthansa AG and VIAG AG.”

Other appointments and promotions include the following:

  • Robert Song has been hired as Senior Vice President Asia & Pacific and Member of the Executive Committee. Mr. Song, who was the point man for HNCA during their purchase of the 35% stake in Cargolux, “will be responsible for maintaining and strengthening Cargolux’s market position in the Asia & Pacific region, including the development of the flight program between Luxembourg and Zhengzhou.”
  • Marcel Funk was promoted to Senior Vice President, Head of Flight Operations
  • Onno Pietersma was promoted to Senior Vice President Maintenance & Engineering,
  • Mr. Funk and Mr. Pietersma will both become Members of the Executive Committee.

Missing from the list of new hires and promotions is someone to take over Robert van de Weg’s old job as Senior Vice President Sales & Marketing – a job that some would argue is the most important at any cargo airline. Regarding this, the Cargolux Board said: “Cargolux President & CEO Dirk Reich will also assume the responsibilities of Senior Vice President Sales & Marketing while global executive search firm Spencer Stuart has been mandated to find a permanent replacement.”

With new leadership now in place at Cargolux, the focus turns to the implementation of the terms of the agreement with HNCA. Among these are requirements that Cargolux make Zhengzhou (the capital of Henan province) a second hub, and that Cargolux will operate four weekly freighter flights between Luxembourg (LUX) and Zhenghzou (CGO).

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