Norwegian hopes that one of their own would be placed at the helm of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) were dashed on Wednesday, when SAS’ board chose Swede Rikard Gustafson to guide the long-troubled carrier into less turbulent times. Many agreed he faces a daunting challenge.
SAS’ board tapped Gustafson, the head of a major Nordic-area insurance company, as its choice to take over as the airline’s new president and chief executive, calling him “an experienced leader … who has demonstrated that he can generate good results.”
Gustafson, age 46, is currently the CEO of insurance firm Codan/Trygg Hansa, which the board noted has given him “Nordic responsibility” and international experience. He has spent his career in the insurance and financial sectors, also at GE Capital and the former Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), but also has an engineering degree with a focus on industrial economy as a graduate of the Institute of Technology at Linköping University in Sweden.
“The board agress that Rickard Gustafson is the right person to take on the challenges in SAS,” said SAS chairman Fritz Schur.
He’ll take over for Mats Jansson, another Swede who announced last month that he felt he’d done what he could at SAS and it was time to move on. Jansson will leave SAS on October 1 and Gustafson isn’t expected to assume the job until after New Year, meaning SAS’ deputy CEO John Dueholm will serve as acting president and CEO until Gustafson comes on board.
Analysts were surprised by the choice, with some calling Gustafson “unknown” in the airline industry and facing an “impossible” task of competing against discount carriers. “SAS will never manage to compete against the low-fare airlines in Europe when it comes to costs, they have an entirely different product,” airline consultant Anders Lidman told website dn.no. “It’s no problem filling your planes, but you have to earn money on the passengers.”
He thinks SAS should concentrate on long-haul flights, and likely will need to merge with another carrier. He says cutting costs won’t be enough if Gustafson is to succeed.
“He needs to stake out a new, active strategy for SAS,” Lidman told dn.no. “And not drown in the details.”