Kenya Airways CEO Resigns — What Happened?

Filed Under: Other Airlines

It has just been announced that Kenya Airways’ CEO, Sebastian Mikosz, will be stepping down as of the end of 2019, well ahead of the end of his contract. Per a letter sent to employees:

“I have made the decision to shorten my contract term and I have decided to resign on personal grounds effective Dec. 31.”

This announcement comes just under two years after he was appointed to the position, as he became Kenya Airways’ CEO as of June 2017.

Kenya Airways 787

Mikosz was supposed to turn around Kenya Airways

I have a lot of respect for Mikosz. He’s a Polish national, and was the CEO of LOT Polish, where he did a great job turning the airline around.

I was hopeful he’d be able to accomplish the same at Kenya Airways. When he took over the airline was at a low point, and was on the verge of liquidation.

In some ways things have gotten better under Mikosz. The airline has reduced losses, and sort of had a plan to become profitable by 2022. I was hopeful his outside perspective would be able to turn around the airline, though I’ve also been disappointed by some of the decisions that have been made under his leadership.

For example, under his leadership Kenya Airways launched daily nonstop flights between Nairobi and New York. Mikosz repeatedly said the route would be a success, though almost immediately the route was reduced to less than daily, and just recently he admitted that “there Is nothing lucrative about flying to New York.” I could have told him that!

One thing is for sure — having taken the Kenya Airways inaugural flight from New York to Nairobi I had the chance to observe him and also meet him, and he’s one of the most personable airline CEOs I’ve ever met. In particular, seeing the way in which he engaged with Kenya Airways flight attendants was refreshing, and something you don’t often see from airline executives. So he’s a really nice guy, if nothing else.

Kenya Airways CEO with inaugural New York to Nairobi crew

What caused Kenya Airways’ CEO to resign?

Officially no reason is being given for Mikosz’s resignation. Kenya’s Daily Nation reports on what has apparently been going on behind the scenes, which is roughly in line with what I would have expected.

Basically the government wasn’t willing to let him executive his plan, and he wasn’t happy about that, so he decided to quit. As the story says, “Mikosz is not the type of captain who sinks with his ship — caught between a rock and a hard place, he jumped.” What I wasn’t aware of is the alleged issues there were between the Polish managers and the local managers:

Insiders say Mr Mikosz dug his own grave after he sidelined top managers who would have been critical to his reign.

Scorned, these managers chose to sabotage every step he made, leaking his every strategy before it fermented. The six polish expats he flew in with him have further helped isolate him from the rest of the team at the airline.

A source says Kenyan managers felt frustrated after they were asked to run any idea they had on turning around the airline through the Polish kitchen cabinet, before pitching it anywhere else.

Apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back was the recent situation where the government would fully take over Kenya Airways, meaning there would be a joint venture between the airline and Nairobi Airport:

His message was clear: Kenya has no option but to hand him the assets of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), in an amorphous deal that would effectively turn KQ into a state parastatal, and even delist from the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), to give it the ammunition and equal footing to stop Middle East carriers and other regional competitors from eating its lunch.

Kenya Airways 787 business class

Bottom line

All things considered I’m a fan of Mikosz, and I recognize that many of the decisions the airline has made over the past couple of years that may have seemed stupid were probably decisions he didn’t necessarily support.

Mikosz resigning is the same story we’ve soon over and over at so many airlines that governments meddle in — the airline is in a horrible situation and someone comes in with new ideas, but isn’t able to execute their vision. At some point they have to decide whether they’re willing to sacrifice their ideas, or they end up quitting.

This is a situation we’ve seen at Malaysia Airlines, South African Airways, Garuda Indonesia, and a countless number of other airlines.

I’ll be curious to see what’s next for Kenya Airways, and whether they choose another foreign CEO, or this time appoint a local, who might be more onboard with the government’s plan. It certainly isn’t an easy road ahead for the airline.

Comments
  1. Sebastian said he would resign if he didn’t get his way on the JKIA takeover. He didn’t get his way, so he resigned. Credit to him for not making empty threats.

  2. So many mixed metaphors and idioms packed into one article by the Daily Nation! Sinks with his ship; rock and a hard place; he jumped; dug his own grave; kitchen cabinet; eating its lunch. I’d be fired if I turned in something like that at my job.

  3. If that Nation article is anything to go by, then he clearly had a vision. Then again, i don’t always believe what that newspaper rights because lots of it is scrap.
    I wonder where Sebastian will go next.

    Can KQ afford Thierry Antinori? I heard he’s in the market….

  4. THis is all soooo familiar…

    Probably the same reason(s) which drove me to jump ship at Nigeria Airways in the 1980’s after only 1 month (not as CEO, just Sales Manager Europe AND Director France) and to flatly turn down employment at another African airline as soon as I heard the name. One has to see by oneself the delusions by some of these carriers and the hoops one is supposed to jump through while having no power at all.

    Sad but obvious.

  5. Lucky there was a take over call it a “coup” at Avianca. The new CEO is the guy who was handling Taca before the merge. You should report on that as well

  6. Maybe Mikosz will end up replacing Thierry Antinori at Emirates. It’s obvious that Emirates needs some help turning their ship around after the mass firings of a several executives this month. Although, it’s certainly not a job that many want at the moment.

  7. Foreign management of airlines in corrupt third world countries just doesn’t work long term. The parasites displaced from their corruption perches will undermine honest, foreign management until they regain their positions. SAS turning Thai Airways around then getting the boot comes to mind.

  8. Trying to sail in two boats at a time.. KQ, JKIA.. In the name of cost cutting was heading to brand KQ as low cost carrier as LOP. Good he is going before messing up more..

  9. It’s practically impossible to manage anything that the government has a stake on in Kenya. If you want your sanity, the only way is to resign and be peaceful. We wait to see who jumps in!

  10. Ben perhaps you should get the job and be an actual CEO rather than an armchair one. I think your posts would have a very different (and more interesting) outlook.

  11. I guess “executive” could be a verb in American English. I hadn’t considered that.

  12. The problem with Kenya Airways is political decisions superseding economic decisions. Also throw in nepotism, corruption, malfeasance and incompetent senior and support staff. Too much for a professional to handle.

  13. Lucky, by your statement that Sebastian Mikosz is a really nice guy I can tell you are a very naïve person. Check with the staff of LOT Polish airlines and Kenya airways, they will tell you that Sebastian Mikosz is rude, arrogant, selfish, stupid and incompetent. He never cares about his peers as the only thing knows is to trim work force to reduce cost. Sebastian Mikosz did not turn around LOT Polish airlines in 2014 as he always lies. He simply used the compensation from Boeing for the Dreamliner and falsely declared it as operating profit. In 2015, LOT lost a jaw dropping US$70M when the price of fuel was lower than 2014 so the fat Polish pig was fired by the Polish government. They did not even want him to serve his notice of one month and told him to leave by the end of August, 2015. The fact is Sebastian Mikosz will be fired by the board of Kenya airways if he chooses to stay. As a journalist, I hope you can check all your facts before making conclusion.

  14. Thank Heavens , his days were numbered as soon as he started making negative comments on the new KQ , NYC Flight. Perhaps I will fly KQ now. Besides he really did nothing for a beautiful country and it’s people. Tourism has massive potential in Kenya and national champion strong and steady is the need of the hour.

  15. There’s no way s foreigner can turn around an organization in which an African government has interest, eg KQ. While the CEO will want to make prudent economic decisions, the local Lootalls will intervene with a view to looting from the organization.
    Man Eat Man Society!!

  16. What happened? Come on this is Africa: no doubt not enough bulging brown envelopes under the table; not enough free flights and upgrades for family and friends of politicians et al; and the locals think they can run it better, a la SAA.

  17. @ lucky
    Under Sebastian we were able to launch the JFK route , increased frequencies to many destinations, GVA and FCO flights are launching on 1st june this year ..He also talked about launching DEL , TLV and PEK routes. He has good ideas of turning KQ but our government never supported him ,all what they can comment is that he earns much..I love KQ and my country too but they never support aviation well enough like the other countries….The green terminal deal,the second runway idea and the rail line from the airport to the city have all been canceled indefinitely. fingers crossed that he changes his resignation brains by Dec 31st …

  18. Sebastian stood behind what he has committed to, so you might not like him, and disagree with his methods, but you cannot take away from him the courage to come here and try, despite perception of Kenya.
    Unfortunately I don’t think there is a professional out there who could turn around an African airline, simply won’t work without bribing all the greedy stakeholders, and Europeans simply lack local connections and are not used to this level of corruption, this is another sad proof that Kenya is 3rd world country.

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