The Big Akbar Show

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After the first day of this year’s IATA annual general assembly, it is clearly time for a serious re-branding exercise. IATA should in the future use a new acronym, IABA. That is short for the International Al Baker Association.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker was the dominant figure at the venue in several regards. During the morning he could simply sit back and relax to watch things move his way. He could listen to IATA Chairman of the Board of Governors Peter Hartman – a representative of what he would consider the old school – as he presented the details of the association’s corporate governance reform. A year ago, Al Baker loudly protested against the lack of transparency in IATA and the unfair representation in the board. Now, a year later, much of that has changed: amongst other things, Al Baker himself now has a seat on the board of governors. There will be a tender for IATA’s 2013 external auditing a marked shift of representation towards the Middle East and Asia Pacific. Al Baker later said he was satisfied with the results – he has a reason for that.

But Akbar would not be Akbar if he had not also taken care of the entertainment part of the assembly. An otherwise rather boring CEO panel showed the IABA Chairman in great mood. He predicted that, unlike himself, a lot of the CEOs will not be present at the next AGM because their airlines will be out of business by then. 

When the panelists and the audience was asked what they typically do during long long-flights, the answers ranged from working to reading and sleeping. Akbar, of course, has other things in mind: “I’m chatting with the flight attendant.”

Keeping in mind what Qantas CEO Alan Joyce revealed about an Akbar proposal over lunch (“put your union leaders in jail”), one can’t be too certain whether all flight attendants will like the idea.

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