24 January note: I have added a note regarding the response from Cargolux employees (through a union spokesman) at the end of this post.
Not many in the air freight industry believed that the “dual hub strategy” Cargolux was forced to agree to when the Luxembourg government sold a 35% stake in the carrier to HNCA (an investment company controlled by the government of China’s Henan province) was commercially sound. But given that Cargolux’s commercial operation was led by Robert van de Weg, one of the savviest and most-respected executives in the industry, there was a feeling that it just might work out.
It was something of an open secret, however, that Mr. van de Weg was not a supporter of the strategy, and as of today, he has parted ways with Cargolux. The carrier formally announced the separation as follows: “Robert van de Weg resigned as the airline’s Senior Vice President Sales & Marketing and Member of the Executive Committee due to differences with the Board of Directors regarding Cargolux’s strategy for the future.”
This leaves Cargolux in a difficult position. Metaphorically speaking, the carrier is now required to follow an incredibly difficult flight plan (set by politicians and Board members), without its best pilot. And we point out that the rest of the crew isn’t exactly happy either, as the unions representing the carrier’s workforce were also opposed to the terms of the agreement with HNCA.
All of this comes in addition to the problem of finding a new CEO. When Ulrich Ogiermann left Cargolux to take over as head of cargo operations at Qatar Airways, the Cargolux Board appointed Richard Forson as interim CEO. But the Board reportedly has now hired executive headhunters Spencer Stuart to conduct a search for a new leader, with Mr. Forson not among the candidates.
It would have been difficult to find someone able to fill the shoes Mr. Ogiermann left behind, but given that Cargolux was reporting solid gains in traffic and revenue, and that working with Mr. van de Weg would have made the job particularly attractive, decent candidates would almost certainly have been lining up at the door. But now? With a questionable strategy put in place from above, a second master to please on the other side of the world, an uncertain labor situation at home, and Mr. van de Weg gone…
Response of the union, as reported by Lloyd’s Loading List, 24 January 2014:
“Deeply disappointed,” was the reaction of Hubert Hollerich, general secretary of the OGBL staff union civil aviation branch, to news of Van de Weg’s resignation.
“He was faced with a situation where he was no longer on the same wavelength as Cargolux’s chairman who is the most ardent defender of the deal with HNCA,” he told Lloyd’s Loading List.com.
“The strategy imposed on Cargolux by the Luxembourg government and the Board of Directors is very bad for the company and for Luxembourg’s logistics sector as a whole.
“I believe (Cargolux’s) management shares this view and also the fears expressed by our union,” Hollerich added.