Professor Sir Roland Smith CEO Lecture
Most of the audience at the Royal Society of Arts were Lancaster University alumni who asked questions in advance, shaping the direction of the talk.
Willie Walsh’s key message was that international transport hubs are expressions of economic confidence. He called on the Government to have vision and to consider air travel as a conduit to economic recovery, and for policies to enable this.
Responding to a question about the scrapped third runway at Heathrow and its implications for IAG, he mentioned that countries are twenty times more likely to trade with one another when there are daily flights between them.
He also highlighted three main challenges to the airline industry: rising and volatile oil prices, capacity, and the comparatively high aviation taxes set by the UK government. He drew on a number of international examples to illustrate the alternatives, such as China for airport expansion, Dubai for a swift rise in airport rankings and Netherlands for abolishing aviation tax.
On the theme of leadership, he said : "You must have confidence and be prepared to deliver good and bad news. Leadership is something you can teach, learn, understand and practice, but it is important to be comfortable with yourself."
He said that in times of great pressure, people revert to their natural style. He concluded that proper coaching in leadership is essential.