EasyJet Chairman Rake to Leave After Stelios Trims Airline Stake

EasyJet Plc Chairman Mike Rake said he plans to step down in the middle of 2013, a year after founder and No. 1 investor Stelios Haji Ioannou questioned his ability to oversee the company.

Rake will hold his position as chairman and non-executive director until a replacement is found, Luton, England-based EasyJet said in a Jan. 26 statement. The board is reviewing internal and external candidates, according to the airline.

“It is the right time for me to stand down,” Rake said in the statement. Chief Executive Officer “Carolyn McCall and her management team have developed and implemented the right strategy for the airline which is already bearing fruit,” the 65-year-old executive said.

Rake was appointed chairman of Europe’s No. 2 discount carrier in January 2010 and also holds board positions at BT Group Plc and Barclays Plc. The connection with Barclays, which was fined 290 million pounds ($456 million) for rigging the benchmark London interbank offered rate, drove Stelios to demand Rake’s resignation in August last year, arguing that his failure to halt or expose the practice called into question his ability to hold top posts. Other shareholders rejected the motion.

Stelios has continued to criticize the airline, cutting his family’s holding last week -- to just under 37 percent -- for the first time since 2004 and threatened to sell more shares if EasyJet pursues plans to buy new airplanes. The entrepreneur has said he wants management to target a 10 percent profit margin and boost dividend payouts to 50 percent, up from one-third.

Rake “has overseen a more than doubling in the value of the company,” Deputy Chairman Charles Gurassa said in the statement. During his tenure, he oversaw the appointment of McCall as CEO and the introduction of dividend payments.

EasyJet fell as much as 3.5 percent, the biggest drop since June 1, 2012. The stock was down 1.5 percent to 930.50 pence at 9:31 a.m. in London.