Surprising: Christoph Mueller Leaving Emirates

Christoph Mueller is a well respected veteran airline executive. In the past he has acted as a “crisis CEO” for a couple of airlines.

Mueller has been in the airline industry for almost three decades, and in 2009 became CEO of Aer Lingus. He turned the airline around when they were really struggling, and did a fantastic job.

Then in 2015 he became the CEO of Malaysia Airlines, following two of their 777s crashing just months apart. He also did a solid job at Malaysia Airlines, and made some significant and necessary changes, even if they were unpopular.

Given how much he was doing, a lot of people were caught off guard when it was announced just a year after he took the position that he’d be leaving Malaysia Airlines for “personal reasons.” He had a three year contract, but ended up leaving less than halfway through that.

We of course don’t know what those “personal reasons” were, as that’s a common reason for people to leave jobs early. Sometimes it’s for actual personal reasons, and other times it’s because they just don’t want the job anymore.

Just shortly after Mueller’s resignation it was announced that he accepted a job at Emirates. At Emirates Mueller became the chief digital and transformation officer.

While Emirates is larger than Aer Lingus and Malaysia Airlines, it surprised many that he was accepting such a “role” downgrade, especially given his great record. Many (myself included) believed that the plan was that he’d eventually become CEO at Emirates, taking over Tim Clark’s roll. Clark is almost 70, and I imagine he wants to retire eventually (or maybe not… he does a great job, and seems to enjoy it).

That’s why the news that has just come out is surprising. In an internal Emirates memo it was revealed that Christoph Mueller will be leaving Emirates and plans to return to Europe.

Regarding this, Clark said that “since Christoph joined us in September 2016, he has been a valuable member of our team and contributed his vast experience to our success.”

It remains to be seen if Christoph has another job opportunity in Europe, if he was butting heads at Emirates, or what exactly happened. But one thing is for sure — I wasn’t expecting a two time airline CEO to only be at Emirates for a couple of years in a downgraded position.

What do you make of Mueller’s departure from Emirates? What do you think is next for him?

Comments

  1. Airline paparazzi will be tracking his flying the next few days. Imagine the rumors should he be sighted at DFW.

  2. I’m sure doug parker Isn’t worried. Just like he promised, American’s stock is at 60 bucks per share. Right? Maybe?

  3. Why do you refer to him as “Mueller” here but the Air France-KLM CEO as “Ben” in all the recent articles about that airline? If there’s a personal relationship with the latter, seems like you should divulge that?

  4. Why is it a surprise? You mentioned in the article itself that he was in a downgraded role at Emirates – if it was clear that he wasn’t going to gain a larger role in the near term, he’d find one elsewhere. Not too much of a surprise.

    Now, if he had taken Clark’s role as CEO of Emirates and *then* left after a year, then I’d be surprised.

  5. What a contrast between this article and ones about AF-KLM!

    In the latter it’s Ben (Smuth) this and Ben that but in this one the person is about is referred to mostly by his surname.

  6. @ Steven — Well, the surprise is that he didn’t get that better role. I figured that the plan had been established when he got the job, so the surprise is that it didn’t happen as planned. Surely Emirates knew he’d leave after a couple of years if he didn’t get a better role, so…

  7. Did Emirates cite whether he left for “personal reasons” to go back to Europe? Just interesting how “personal reasons” was highlighted when he left MH but not as much (if at all) in this case.

  8. Given the reign he was given at Aer Lingus, I have a feeling he’s felt shackled at Malaysian and Emirates, vis-a-vis empowerment to actually make changes.

    There’s a lot of things even Emirates does that are based on national pride and power, versus real business criteria. He probably got sold a bill of goods signing on at Emirates and bristled at constraints he faced there.

  9. You’d leave too if you had to work for Sir Tim, a pompous, obnoxious Brit. He probably disagreed with Sir Tim over the A380. Emirates commitment to the A380 is the problem. With a plane that relies on early 21st century technology and engines there going to have a tough time.
    Airbus should cancel the program and let Emirates replace the entire fleet with A350-1000s and a mix of A350-900s. Some standard and others ULR. The A380 is finished.

  10. This is a nonsense piece. Speculative end sensational.
    There does is not anything strange to people coming and leaving. People have their own considerations.
    I left a well paying and high exposure job for personal reasons as well. And the personal reasons were very simply that after 30 years of high profile corporate life with all the perks, I wanted to be more flexible in my time and travel to places where I won’t go anymore when I’m old and stiff. And do things I couldn’t de before.

  11. He heads to Oslo. There’s a LCC (Lost-Case Carrier) that desperately needs a Mister Mueller to get their sh*t sorted out.

  12. Perhaps he has seen the decline of Emirates and decided to leave prior to it happening. Him being there when it happens will leave a scar on his past track record to bringing airlines to stability.

  13. This guy is a miracle worker and a crisis manager. Seems like a comfortable, predictable and a smooth workday bores him to the bones. All the best to him.

  14. I think like Cricet – contender for replacing the current KLM CEO given the tensions between AF and KLM.

  15. I have to echo the comment about the “Ben” vs “Mueller” distinction.

    When you write about Ben Smith, it sounds like you know him on a personal level. It sounds like you spoke to him or personally witnessed the events and then are telling us one-on-one. When you write about Christoph Mueller or Tim Clark, it sounds like you are reporting on industry leadership to an audience that may not necessarily know who they are. It sounds like you’re reporting about someone you don’t know and gathered facts from press releases, memos, insiders, etc.

    There’s not necessarily anything bad about it. I’m not an expert on journalism. It just sounds different than when I’m used to reading in news and blogs (e.g., Last Name, First Name + Last Name).

  16. @Lucky:
    Germans are not just about surnames – they also want to have their titles included. Eg., Müller should be addressed as Herr, Herr Dr, Herr Dr Prof or Herr Dr Dr.

    PS. Ben gets upset if I don’t refer to him as Mr Smith

  17. His whole department was shut down and everyone on his team was made redundant/forced to resign, overnight. He was essentially pushed to the side within months of taking his role. He never got the spotlight or the ears to listen that he deserved. Tim is a mafia in Emirates, what Tim wants, Tim gets and there is no other way around it. Thierry is worse. Look at what happened to yeild after Thierry joined, yet he’s been getting a free pass all these years. Lots of wasted executive salaries at Emirates and unfortunately for Mr. Mueller, he was a product of the environment at EK.

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