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Benjamin Smith imposes his mark on Air France

A board of the Franco-Dutch group is being held this Tuesday, February 19 and could consider an evolution of relations between the two companies.

Internally, after the big strikes of last spring, the social climate seems quieted.

It's a delicate sailing week ahead for Benjamin Smith, the captain at Air France-KLM for six months. This time, the clouds will probably not come from the French side of the group where the social news is yet rich. The professional elections began on February 18 and ended on March 3. In addition, the results of a referendum on a proposed wage agreement with management, organized by the SNPL, the majority union of pilots, should be known this Tuesday, February 19.

The risk of shock actually comes from Amsterdam and could shake the board of directors of the Franco-Dutch group that also meets on February 19, the day before the publication of the financial results for the year 2018. " With the strikes that disrupted Air France in 2018 and which caused the company to lose 330 million euros, it is KLM's profitability that should pull the balance sheet upwards. "Believes an internal source.

A wind of slingshot is blowing in the Netherlands. No fewer than 25,000 employees, out of a total of 30,000, signed a petition addressed to the headquarters of the Franco-Dutch group. A demonstration also brought together a thousand employees on 14 February. All signs of support for KLM CEO Pieter Elbers, while rumors lend to the Canadian Benjamin Smith the will to oppose the renewal of his term ending in April.

The case has taken on a political dimension. The Dutch Minister for the Economy and his colleague in charge of infrastructure convened Benjamin Smith on February 15 to support the renewal of Pieter Elbers.

Is the latter really on an ejection seat? In any case, his relationship with Benjamin Smith seems far from good. While the CEO of Air France-KLM wants to strengthen the synergies and cooperation of the two companies, Pieter Elbers appears as a supporter, and a craftsman, the autonomy of KLM.

" At the merger of Air France and KLM in 2004, there was a start of synergies, indicates a good connoisseur of the sector. Duplicate lines have been removed and the network has been extended by 20%. But things have hardly gone further. KLM cultivated its difference and preserved its autonomy. "

In Benjamin Smith's logbook, strengthen synergies and cooperation with KLM appears to be one of his priorities. With models like IAG (British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, etc.) or Lufthansa (Lufthansa, Swiss or Austrian) whose profitability is higher than Air France-KLM in a very competitive sector. According to several rumors, the CEO of the Franco-Dutch group could present to its board of directors a plan specifying what will be the headquarters or companies, in terms of strategic and operational decisions.

A good part of the staff of Air France should probably agree with this policy. On the French side, many sources within the company, including unions, salute the qualities of the driver. " Benjamin Smithknows the air, he knows how to run a company. He's not a state clerk like there was often here ", Rejoices a SNPL official.

In a few months, the advances and radical choices ratified by the former number two of Air Canada are already numerous: appointment of Anne Rigail, first woman head of Air France; social agreements with all staff; announced end of subsidiary Joon, attachment of Hop! (dedicated to domestic flights) in the colors of Air France; start of rationalization of the fleet with the decision to reduce the number of Airbus A 380, etc.

If its strategic plan has not yet been presented, we know that it intends to continue to upgrade the French company to increase the number of high-value passengers. All this after a year of 2018 marked by a strike and a referendum that led to the resignation of his predecessor.

Is there a secret Benjamin Smith? Most interlocutors contacted at Air France evoke the same distinctive features: Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, listening, discussion without taboos, meeting with operational staff, but also the ability to decide. Not to mention an obsession with secrecy and a " phobia "(Dixit a frame) of the communication. " There was enough to see the social debates spread in the press by one or other of the parties, blows a unionist. It disturbed the serenity. "

Michel Waintrop



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