July 13, 2018 / 12:16 PM / 2 days ago

Air France-KLM chairman blames Accor over CEO search delay

PARIS (Reuters) - Anne-Marie Couderc, the interim chairman of Air France KLM (AIRF.PA), has blamed AccorHotels (ACCP.PA) for complicating and delaying the airline’s search for a new chief executive, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: The Air France-KLM company logo is seen at the annual shareholder meeting in the La Defense business district in Puteaux, France, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

The airline has been hunting for a new boss to fill a gap left by the abrupt departure of chief executive Jean-Marc Janaillac in May, after staff rejected a pay proposal aimed at ending strikes that have resulted in heavy losses.

In June, the French hotel group said it was looking at taking a minority stake in the troubled airline group to help it compete better against travel packages offered by online rivals such as Expedia and Booking.com.

However, Couderc said in the memorandum to employees that AccorHotels’ interest had hindered the hunt for a new CEO.

“Some of these disturbances are linked to the way AccorHotels has manifested its interest Air France-KLM Group” as well as by media speculation about candidates, she said.

Veolia (VIE.PA) finance chief Philippe Capron, initially a candidate, implicitly cited opposition from AccorHotels as he ruled himself out earlier this month - and suggested the company might be seeking Air France client data.

AccorHotels, which publishes half-year results later in July, declined to comment on the matter.

The memorandum added that Air France KLM hoped to conclude its search for a new CEO in the coming weeks, and that it hoped to have a new leadership team fully up and running by September.

The French government has a stake of about 14 percent in Air France KLM, while Delta Airlines (DAL.N) and China Eastern Airlines (600115.SS) each hold 8.8 percent.

While some investors have said they saw some sense in a tie-up between AccorHotels and Air France-KLM, notably through co-operation on loyalty programmes, others have questioned why AccorHotels would need to buy a stake in the troubled airline.

Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic; additional reporting dominiqe Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Laurence Frost

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