Report: Tony Douglas Departs Saudi Arabia’s RIA After Two Months

Report: Tony Douglas Departs Saudi Arabia’s RIA After Two Months

21

Well this is an interesting twist…

Tony Douglas no longer involved with Saudi Arabia’s RIA

In 2022 we learned that Saudi Arabia is planning on launching a new mega-airline, which may be named “RIA.” The country is looking to invest $30 billion in the airline, and essentially create a company the size of Emirates, only much faster. RIA is expected to place a huge aircraft order, and is also building a new airport in Riyadh.

In September 2022, we learned that RIA poached Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas. I imagine Saudi Arabia offered him a massive amount of money to take the role, as he was giving up a job where he was respected and doing pretty well.

It would appear that things aren’t going so well for Douglas, though. Arabian Business is reporting that Tony Douglas is no longer involved with RIA, after barely two months in the role of CEO. We don’t have any details beyond that, though. We don’t know if he left voluntarily, or if he was asked to leave.

Suffice it to say that’s a pretty bad situation for both parties. Douglas gave up his stable job to pursue this opportunity, while RIA is now left (as far as we know) without a CEO. Given how ambitious this company is, it’s kind of amazing how little is public about it so far.

Douglas left Etihad to run RIA

I’m curious to see how all of this plays out

There’s no denying that Saudi Arabia has the money required to start an airline. I’m not sure I understand the path to profitability for the airline, but I suppose it’s largely just about continuing to put Saudi Arabia on the map as a destination, given all the money the country is otherwise spending on tourism.

I have found many of the timelines proposed by the airline to be beyond strange. For example, in the fall we were told that the airline could launch flights before the end of 2022, which was a real head-scratcher.

I’d be fascinated to know what went on behind the scenes here. Douglas did a good job essentially downsizing Etihad into profitability. Did Douglas realize he was getting himself involved with a company he didn’t want to run, and he disagreed with the vision? Or what made him decide to leave this position so quickly?

RIA has already hired quite a few people from other airlines, and it’s also my understanding that Douglas took some people with him from Etihad.

Now the big question is who will take on this position next (I imagine Saudi Arabia will be able to attract another seasoned veteran), and also what’s next for Douglas.

RIA is expected to place a large aircraft order

Bottom line

Former Etihad CEO Tony Douglas has reportedly left Saudi Arabia’s RIA airline startup after only two months. We don’t know any details beyond that, though this is quite a significant development, especially given the quick timeline with which the airline is hoping to launch operations.

Let’s see what’s next for RIA…

What do you make of Douglas reportedly leaving RIA so quickly?

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  1. Faiza Guest

    If you looking for someone who would help them throw money in the wind...James Hogan would be your man as he did with gulf air and etihad... he spins a good story and it will cost them millions

  2. SullyofDoha Guest

    This sounds like a job for...James Hogan! Heck, he might as well go for a third strike in the Arabian Gulf! :D

  3. glenn t Diamond

    Wouldn't surprise that Douglas looked into the proposal in some detail and realised it's all pie-in-the-sky stuff, a vanity project with little chance of success within the timeline the Saudis set out.
    As is their want, they wouldn't like to be questioned, and probably decided this wasn't their man and paid him off.
    No doubt they will find some yes-man carpetbagger who will promise the world and ultimately depart rich but with nothing...

    Wouldn't surprise that Douglas looked into the proposal in some detail and realised it's all pie-in-the-sky stuff, a vanity project with little chance of success within the timeline the Saudis set out.
    As is their want, they wouldn't like to be questioned, and probably decided this wasn't their man and paid him off.
    No doubt they will find some yes-man carpetbagger who will promise the world and ultimately depart rich but with nothing to show.
    Interesting times ahead, wouldn't you think?

  4. Lune Gold

    I'm not sure how old Douglas is, but if he wants a job *after* his stint at RIA, then it's best he leave now. Because RIA is going to fail.

    I realize SA's rulers look at what Dubai did and want to replicate it. Dubai is a success story: I think people would be surprised to learn how much of Emirates's traffic isn't just transiting pax but people actually visiting Dubai. It's a legit tourism...

    I'm not sure how old Douglas is, but if he wants a job *after* his stint at RIA, then it's best he leave now. Because RIA is going to fail.

    I realize SA's rulers look at what Dubai did and want to replicate it. Dubai is a success story: I think people would be surprised to learn how much of Emirates's traffic isn't just transiting pax but people actually visiting Dubai. It's a legit tourism and business center in its own right.

    I'm sure MBS looks at that and thinks "If a tiny city in the desert can bring in that much tourism, I can do a lot better". And SA does have advantages. There are tons of historical sites along its coasts that could be developed. But in order to unlock those advantages, they'll need to open up their society, which is the part of Dubai's success story that SA refuses to acknowledge.

    MBS is trying to thread that needle by basically creating 2 societies: shiny new compounds / cities that are modern and liberalized to attract tourists and businesspeople, but that are walled off from the rest of SA so the rest of the populace doesn't start getting ideas. That never works. A Saudi woman is going to know that foreign women are walking around in tourist compounds without requiring a chaperone, and wonder why MBS is okay with that but not okay with her doing the same thing. At least when Dubai does it, MBS can say he can't control what Dubai does. But he can control what happens in tourist cities in SA, so why does he allow it there? That's a very hard question that, if answered incorrectly, can lead to revolutions.

    The CEO of RIA is not just tasked with building an airline. He's tasked with being a vital piece of MBS's vision to transform SA. That's a political job. A political job in a place run by a brash, mercurial 30-something who has a tendency to imprison and/or torture people he sours on (if he's willing to do that to his own family members, do you think he has any hesitation doing it to you?). Even people born and raised in SA who've spent their whole lives learning how to navigate Saudi palace intrigues (like other members of the royal family) have ended up disappeared or exiled. Do you really want to step into that arena as someone who knows nothing about how SA operates?

    If I were Douglas, I'd much prefer running an airline where all he has to do is worry about filling planes and maximizing ticket prices. That's not the RIA job.

    1. Delo Guest

      "A Saudi woman is going to know that foreign women are walking around in tourist compounds without requiring a chaperone, and wonder why MBS is okay with that but not okay with her doing the same thing."

      A Saudi woman does not require a chaperone as well. You are welcome to visit.

  5. Dan Guest

    If somebody of his stature is leaving this early, it's almost certainly voluntary. They've got an aggressive opening schedule and even if they got tired of Douglas, it'd be smarter to unofficially sideline him in exchange for a massive payout. Him leaving after just two months just makes it obvious what a dumpster fire this is.

    Unless, I suppose, they caught Douglas doing something...

  6. globetrotter Guest

    The lure of $$$ is irresistible to even the elites and the cream of the crop. How much $$$ does one really need to live on so that he can still preserve his dignity and reputation? He deserves what he got. He should have stayed put as Etihad CEO until retirement --possibly no more than a decade. Wait to see what will happen to famous US golf players who ditched the PGA to join the Saudi LIV.

    1. Never In Doubt Guest

      "Wait to see what will happen to famous US golf players who ditched the PGA to join the Saudi LIV."

      Those players traded disapproval from some element of the public for more guaranteed money than they were going to earn from the PGA for the rest of their lives. They knew exactly what they were getting, and getting into.

      That's what "happened to them".

      What was your point?

  7. Too Many Guest

    It would be interesting to see if the reason for departure was initiated by him or the airline, or mutual.

    If by him, then was it due to the difference in opinion on how the airline was run? Or company culture, poor working relations?

    Or was it beyond the company, and the fundamentals of living in Saudia Arabia and the culture there that upset him? Like, did he see or experience something that affronted his personal sensibilities and life.

    1. Pierre Gold

      There may be tremendous infighting among the powerful inside SA's society, precisely about the amount of culture clash permissible in the new SA after millions of tourists are landed by RIA. All it may have taken is a few banana peels thrown under his shoes, enough to make him realize 1) that the RIA dream would be difficult to accomplish and 2) that making it happen could be dangerous for his fututre well- being. Memories...

      There may be tremendous infighting among the powerful inside SA's society, precisely about the amount of culture clash permissible in the new SA after millions of tourists are landed by RIA. All it may have taken is a few banana peels thrown under his shoes, enough to make him realize 1) that the RIA dream would be difficult to accomplish and 2) that making it happen could be dangerous for his fututre well- being. Memories of the Kasshogi saga are plentiful and well alive.

  8. Chris W Guest

    Surely if you took on a job as impossible as making RIA a success you would just:
    1. Negotiate a massive salary, relocation bonus and stock options;
    2. Do the bare minimum for a few years until others realised the business model would not work; and then
    3. Accept a huge payout to leave and let someone else clean up your mess.

    James Hogan would be the ideal candidate for the replacement.

    1. Michael_FFM Member

      I am actually surprised they didn’t hire him in the first place. Growing an airline with unlimited funds is exactly his thing.

  9. T- Guest

    As Saudi Arabia is currently, who wants to take a risk by even being in the country? The religious police are no joke and women are certainly 2nd class citizens. They were given the right to drive though (if their husband allows). It’s a risky venture. Don’t tolerate the regime & it’s human rights abuses. It is immoral.

    1. Malc Gold

      You don't know what you're talking about. The religious police were effectively disbanded years ago (it's certainly many years since I saw one). As for the females, I had a female student in my office today – fluent, eloquent, confident...

      All countries have their issues. Don't just jump on a bashing bandwagon.

    2. Dan Guest

      We have smart women in Saudi Arabia! I saw one yesterday! Really!

      Come on. It isn't quite Iran, but you have to admit SA isn't a shining beacon of gender equality.

    3. jamie Guest

      Women have more rights in Iran than they do Saudi, they don't have a lot of rights but it's more than Saudi.
      Women can drive, vote, etc

    4. James Guest

      I’ve been living in Saudi for years and you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    5. Apple Guest

      Do you own a bonesaw?

  10. Sean M. Diamond

    James Hogan to the white courtesy phone please...

  11. Bob Guest

    Oh no! Poor millionaire .... :rolleyes:

  12. view Guest

    Well at least he got out in one piece.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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view Guest

Well at least he got out in one piece.

7
Sean M. Diamond

James Hogan to the white courtesy phone please...

5
Lune Gold

I'm not sure how old Douglas is, but if he wants a job *after* his stint at RIA, then it's best he leave now. Because RIA is going to fail. I realize SA's rulers look at what Dubai did and want to replicate it. Dubai is a success story: I think people would be surprised to learn how much of Emirates's traffic isn't just transiting pax but people actually visiting Dubai. It's a legit tourism and business center in its own right. I'm sure MBS looks at that and thinks "If a tiny city in the desert can bring in that much tourism, I can do a lot better". And SA does have advantages. There are tons of historical sites along its coasts that could be developed. But in order to unlock those advantages, they'll need to open up their society, which is the part of Dubai's success story that SA refuses to acknowledge. MBS is trying to thread that needle by basically creating 2 societies: shiny new compounds / cities that are modern and liberalized to attract tourists and businesspeople, but that are walled off from the rest of SA so the rest of the populace doesn't start getting ideas. That never works. A Saudi woman is going to know that foreign women are walking around in tourist compounds without requiring a chaperone, and wonder why MBS is okay with that but not okay with her doing the same thing. At least when Dubai does it, MBS can say he can't control what Dubai does. But he can control what happens in tourist cities in SA, so why does he allow it there? That's a very hard question that, if answered incorrectly, can lead to revolutions. The CEO of RIA is not just tasked with building an airline. He's tasked with being a vital piece of MBS's vision to transform SA. That's a political job. A political job in a place run by a brash, mercurial 30-something who has a tendency to imprison and/or torture people he sours on (if he's willing to do that to his own family members, do you think he has any hesitation doing it to you?). Even people born and raised in SA who've spent their whole lives learning how to navigate Saudi palace intrigues (like other members of the royal family) have ended up disappeared or exiled. Do you really want to step into that arena as someone who knows nothing about how SA operates? If I were Douglas, I'd much prefer running an airline where all he has to do is worry about filling planes and maximizing ticket prices. That's not the RIA job.

4
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