Lufthansa Group Reshuffles Executive Board
FRANKFURT—In a long-expected move, Lufthansa Group has made senior executive changes reflecting the difficulties it has had in union relations and the turnaround of its Eurowings LCC subsidiary.
The company’s board of directors Dec. 3 named Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) CFO Stefan Niggemann as the new head of human resources and legal affairs. He succeeds Bettina Volkens, who will leave the group after six years in the job.
Eurowings CEO Thorsten Dirks will leave his post to oversee the group’s IT, digital and innovation initiatives.
Brussels Airlines CEO Christina Foerster will assume responsibility for customer and corporate responsibility, a new position that brings the executive board to seven members.
The changes become effective Jan. 1, 2020.
Volkens has handled the airline’s labor relations since 2013 and has been criticized internally for what some perceived as a chaotic management style and slow progress in negotiating labor agreements. Lufthansa has been in a long-standing dispute with cabin crew union UFO. The company disputed UFO’s status as a union until it called for strikes and managed to mobilize a workforce that had been critical of internal union quarrels. Only then did Lufthansa change its position and agreed to negotiate. Since then there has been back and forth on how to enter mediation, a process in which Lufthansa changed its position several times.
Niggemann has been in senior roles at the group level before. His primary task will be to find a solution for the UFO issue that does not increase Lufthansa’s already high cost levels while also guaranteeing labor peace. The main agreement with pilot union Vereinigung Cockpit is scheduled to be renewed in 2021.
Dirks, a specialist in IT and digital transformation, joined Lufthansa in 2017 as the new CEO of Eurowings just weeks before the collapse of its main rival, airberlin. The subsequent effort to buy and integrate parts of airberlin into Eurowings became a major drain on management capacity. Eurowings also expanded into long-haul flying, causing mounting losses. The airline was going to be integrated with Brussels Airlines, an experiment that has now been called off.
Dirks’ Eurowings role will not be filled on the executive board. Instead, three managing directors for finance, operations and commercial will run the airline’s daily business, reporting to group executive board members Harry Hohmeister (network and commercial), Ulrik Svensson (finance), Detlef Kayser (operations standards) and Foerster, who will also oversee the cabin product, marketing and Lufthansa’s frequent-flyer program Miles & More.
The same system is applied at the group’s Austrian Airlines, Brussels and SWISS subsidiaries.