Flying into a Storm: British Airways (1996-2000)
This case considers the transition at the head of British Airways (BA) from Lord Marshall, key architect of BA's spectacular restructuring and revitalisation in the 1980s, to his chosen successor Robert Ayling. In an increasingly deregulated market, Ayling's challenge is to sustain BA's position of leadership in the airline industry. He pursues an ambitious strategic alliance, a massive cost cutting drive and initiates a controversial change of corporate identity. Although the stock market initially approves of most of his strategy, he runs into trouble on the industrial relations front. A cabin crew strike in the summer of 1997 hits employee morale and triggers a sustained dive in the airline's share price. For all Ayling's efforts over the following three years, he does not manage to redress the slump and his eventual removal does not come as much of a surprise. What is surprising is the insistence by BA's chairman that Ayling had set the right strategy, but was the wrong person to implement it. The case explores what went wrong.