Virgin Atlantic Names Weiss CEO as Branson Cedes Control

(Bloomberg) -- Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said commercial head Shai Weiss will take over as chief executive officer as billionaire founder Richard Branson prepares to cede majority control of the U.K. carrier.

Craig Kreeger will stand down as chief at the end of this year, with Weiss taking the helm on Jan. 1, 2019, the Crawley, England-based company said in a statement Thursday.

The switch comes as Virgin’s alliance with 49 percent owner Delta Air Lines Inc. is set to be extended to include Air France-KLM Group. The Paris-based carrier will in turn acquire a 31 percent holding from Branson, who built the business with cash from his record label, leaving him with a 20 percent stake.

Weiss, 50, is the “right leader to take Virgin Atlantic to the next level” and has a “relentless ability to challenge the status quo,” Virgin Group Chairman Peter Norris said in the release. A graduate of New York’s Columbia University, Weiss joined the carrier’s board in 2012, became chief financial officer two years later and has worked as chief commercial officer since January last year.

Prior to that Weiss founded the Virgin Green Fund, established by Branson to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels, and also led a merger between NTL Telewest and Virgin Mobile to form Virgin Media.

Full-Year Loss

Kreeger will retire before he turns 60 next year, having led Virgin Atlantic since 2013. He said in the release that it’s time to “begin a new chapter,” without saying what that will entail.

Virgin Atlantic posted a 28 million-pound ($37 million) pretax loss last year, compared with a profit in 2016, as the weak pound hurt demand for flights from the U.K. and made it tougher for the carrier to compete with long-haul discounters led by Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA. Kreeger said in March that macro-economic factors will continue to make conditions tough this year.

The carrier plans to fend off the low-cost challenge by splitting its coach class into three ticket grades, with the cheapest fares making it more visible as an option when the most price-sensitive travelers are booking tickets.

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