MIAMI — Colombian flag carrier, Avianca, is set to name Anko van der Werff as its new CEO. Following last month’s sudden resignation of former CEO, Hernan Rincon, and the major shakeup that saw the airline’s major shareholder, German Efromocich ousted as Chairman of the Board, van der Werff arrives in the midst of an accentuated crisis.
Anko van der Werff’s move from its Chief Commercial Officer position at Aeromexico to Chief Executive Officer spot in Avianca is being heavily criticized in Mexico—much like when former American Airline’s President, Scott Kirby, surprisingly moved to United Airlines in 2016.
Both Avianca and Aeromexico are two of the biggest airlines in Latin America.
Board Shakeup, CEO Resignation
In late May, German Efromovich was removed from his position of Chairman of the Board of Avianca Holdings SA following a loan breach that gave his voting powers to United Airlines (UA).
The US carrier had found itself in control of an odd situation in Bogota, Colombia, where Efromovich defaulted on the repayment of a $456 million loan that was signed in November 2018.
United took legal action against Efromovich for defaulting on the loan it signed six months prior, allowing the US carrier to take over the collateral 51.5% stake and 516 million shares of common stock that Efromovich’s group has on Avianca Holdings.
With this execution, Efromovich’s seat and voting rights were immediately surrendered to the American carrier. However, looking to avoid breaching United’s own agreements with its pilot’s unions, these powers were transferred to Avianca’s second-largest shareholder, Kingsland Holdings.
Roberto Kriete, Kingsland’s chief, and former Chairman, and CEO of Grupo Taca, was appointed by United as the new Chairman of the Board of Avianca Holdings.
Kriete declared that a new Avianca CEO should be elected shortly.
From Aeromexico to Avianca
In a quick turn of events, Avianca released a statement noting that the Board of Directors has not appointed a new CEO.
“With regards to the news published by several media where several executives are mentioned as potential candidates (…), we clarify that today’s board meeting has not officialized the name of Avianca’s new CEO.”
But according to Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, van der Werff resigned in Mexico City on June 6, accepting the offer that the new Avianca board of directors had tendered.
Should Anko van dee Werff become Avianca’s new CEO, he brings a strong record of experience in the airline industry, which consolidated during his tenure with Qatar Airways as Pricing Vice President.
Van der Werff arrived in Mexico five years ago, “with clear motivations to start building the necessary renovations to make Aeromexico one of the best places to work,” as noted by El Tiempo.
Part of van der Werff’s strategies in Aeromexico led his workers to note that he shifted the airline’s organizational culture. His openness and acceptance for ideas that are not conventional seem to be the right fit for what’s needed to turn Avianca around after a long period of uncertainty and lack of direction.
One of van der Werff’s biggest accomplishments in the Mexican flag carrier was the approval of Aeromexico’s joint cooperation agreement with Delta Air Lines, which “was a natural step that was accomplished thanks to the teamwork between both carriers,” as noted by the Mexican carrier.
Aeromexico tells Airways that current CEO, Andres Conesa, will absorb van der Werff’s department until a suitable replacement is found.
The new Avianca CEO will jump on board in the midst of a transformation process that seeks to improve the airline’s yield performance, a fleet adjustment campaign, and the divestment of some strategic assets.
Avianca currently flies to more than 105 destinations in 27 countries. The airline operated more than 290,000 flights in 2018, moving 30.5 million passengers. More than 19,000 Avianca workers will certainly look forward to the new path that van der Werff is about to bring into the 99-year-old Latin American carrier.