- New head of Africa-focused airline was leading SAA’s Mango
- Bezuidenhout replaces Ed Winter, who resigned as CEO in March
FastJet Plc has hired Nico Bezuidenhout, the head of the low-cost unit of South African Airways, as chief executive officer to help revive the U.K. discount airline following a plunge in its share price and an escalating spat with a top investor.
Bezuidenhout, 39, will start at FastJet on Aug 1, the London-based company said in a statement on Thursday. The South African executive replaces Ed Winter, FastJet’s founding CEO, who quit in March following pressure from the company’s second-largest investor and EasyJet Plc founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
“Better late than never,” Stelios, as the entrepreneur is known, said in an e-mailed statement that welcomed the appointment. “Nico first appeared on a list of candidates put forward by a head hunter I had to hire last November.”
Bezuidenhout joins FastJet following a tumultuous sixth months for the Africa-focused airline, which warned in March that full-year earnings would miss analysts’ estimates amid a shrinking cash-pile and weak demand. The airline was established four years ago with the ambition of becoming the first discount airline spanning sub-Saharan Africa.
The new CEO “brings strong commercial and strategic skills and a wealth of experience of operating a low-cost carrier,” FastJet Chairman Colin Child said in the statement. He has been head of state-owned SAA’s Mango since 2006, when the Johannesburg-based budget airline first started operations, and has served twice as acting head of its parent carrier.
Stelios reiterated his calls for the chairman to step down, saying the company had burned unnecessary cash while recruiting Bezuidenhout.
FastJet shares rose 14 percent to 29.50 pence at 3:53 p.m. in London, on track for their biggest gain since April 13. The stock has dropped 58 percent this year.
The company, based in London, uses five Airbus Group SE A319 planes, after agreeing to pull a sixth out of operation in April by terminating the lease early. The airline flies to airports in Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya, according to its website.