The founder of easyJet has escalated his battle against the low-cost carrier’s board by threatening to oust one of its top executives and warning that it could run out of money by August.
Sky News can reveal that Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who along with members of his family owns close to 34% of easyJet, will announce on Monday that he will seek to remove Andrew Findlay, its finance chief, as well as non-executive director Andreas Bierwirth.
Sir Stelios last week used his shareholding to requisition an extraordinary general meeting to oust Mr Bierwirth, and said he would repeat the move every seven weeks in an attempt to replace its entire slate of non-executives.
In a statement posted on easyGroup’s website on Sunday night, Sir Stelios said he would not inject any more money into easyJet’s shares unless it cancels an order for Airbus aircraft worth £4.5bn.
The tycoon, who launched the airline in 1995 before floating it five years later, wants it to raise at least £600m through a rights issue in which he has signalled a willingness to participate.
“If easyJet stumbles along whilst taking UK taxpayers’ money as loans only to pass it on to Airbus, it will have to raise fresh equity anyway in the next 3-6 months – reducing the value of our current shareholdings to close to zero,” he said.
“In any event no rational investor would be buying new shares in easyJet if the money will be used by easyJet to pay £4.5bn to Airbus for new planes it simply does not need.
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“I will certainly not be throwing good money after bad.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I will not inject any fresh equity in easyJet whilst the Airbus liability is in place.”
Sir Stelios recently received a £60m dividend cheque from easyJet, which the airline paid despite ominous signs of the crisis in which the industry now finds itself.
Sir Stelios’s effort to get rid of Mr Findlay – motivated by what he called the board’s “dirty trick” in rejecting the requisition notice – will heighten tensions between the two sides.
EasyJet has described its founder’s campaign as an unwelcome distraction during a period in which its entire fleet has been grounded because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sir Stelios has opposed public statements by easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren that the company was seeking a government loan on commercial terms to help it weather the coronavirus outbreak.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, recently said that any state support for airlines would need to be in taxpayers’ interest and would be available “only as a last resort”.
That comment implied that airlines such as easyJet would need to tap their own shareholders for funding before approaching the government.
In his latest attack on the board, Sir Stelios warned that if the Airbus order for more than 100 new planes was not abandoned, “easyJet will run out of money around August 2020, perhaps even earlier”.
He said he had chosen Mr Findlay as his latest target to be sacked because it was “the best way to stop him writing billion pound cheques plus to Airbus every year”.
Referring to Mr Findlay’s previous employer, he added: that the aircraft order “would have been the equivalent of Halfords only buying bikes from one supplier and then buying 50% more bikes than it could expect to sell – but strange things happen to executives when Airbus is the vendor”.
That stark warning underlines the emergency facing global aviation industry as the coronavirus pandemic leaves it facing the gravest crisis in its history.
It is not the first time that the easyJet founder has been in dispute with the company over the size of its fleet, having settled several disputes with uneasy truces.
An easyJet spokeswoman said: “The board is managing the unprecedented challenges facing the airline and the aviation sector as a whole.
“We remain absolutely focused on short term liquidity, removing expenditure from the business alongside safeguarding jobs and ensuring the long-term future of the airline.
“We believe that holding a general meeting would be an unhelpful distraction from tackling the many immediate issues our business faces.”
SOURCE : https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-double-trouble-for-easyjet-as-stelios-wages-war-on-cfo-11969068