Speculation has been swirling for months over when the 72-year-old founder and chief executive of Norwegian Air would finally step down. Now Bjørn Kjos seems more keen to relinquish control, in an interview conducted during the Paris Air Show this week.
“I really hope they (the board of holding company Norwegian Air Shuttle) find someone now,” Kjos told Oslo newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Its commentator Thor Christian Jensen predicted months ago that Kjos likely wouldn’t be CEO by the end of the year.
“I have long said that you shouldn’t stay in this position when you get up into your 70s,” Kjos told DN. “I have said 2019 (is the deadline), and then it’s up to the board.”
Kjos has been Norwegian’s CEO and main owner since launching the company and challenging SAS’ monopoly 17 years ago. Norwegian Air also offered an alternative that led to dramatically lower airfares in Norway and to and from Norway.
He then guided the airline through rapid expansion around Europe and ultimately on an intercontinental basis as well, first with flights to Bangkok and New York and now to many destinations in North- and South America. It’s been a bumpy ride, with lots of drama last year, but on Tuesday Kjos proudly accepted an airline industry “Oscar” once again, the Skytrax Award, for the seventh year in a row, this time for the world’s best low-fare long-haul airline.
“It’s just as fantastic every time,” Kjos told DN. It’s Norwegian’s long-distance routes that created the financial challenges that led to Kjos remaining as CEO longer than expected. Now Norwegian’s board has hired an international executive search firm to find candidates both inside and outside the airline to take over. Kjos said he won’t take a seat on the board, so as not to be seen as breathing down the neck of his successor.
“A new top executive shouldn’t be the co-pilot,” Kjos told DN, “but instead have the freedom to develop the airline independently of me.”