BA’s executive chairman Keith Williams. Photo: Nick Morrish

Faster Thinking

Keith Williams: And it’s goodbye from me

After 18 years – 13 of them turbulent, five surprisingly calm – the executive chairman signs off

This is my last Faster Track appearance as executive chairman of British Airways. In April, I retire after 18 years at the airline. I've had the privilege of leading the company for the past five. Air travel is fast, and careers in the industry seem to shoot along at a similar rate.

In my first years here, I wondered whether aviation ever had a stable period. We seemed to be continually buffeted by external shocks: wars, recessions, terror threats, epidemics, oil price hikes – to name but a few. I’d arrived from my previous role at Apple believing that business was simply a matter of developing the product and selling it. How deluded could I have been? It took us almost all the last decade to steady the ship. We shrank our network, cut back our workforce and slowly rebuilt the balance sheet. As chief finance officer, I was deeply grateful for the determination of Willie Walsh as chief executive and Martin Broughton as chairman.

I would be the first to say that my stint in the top chair, since 2011, has been less of a rollercoaster. But I am very proud of the progress we’ve made. Compared with five years ago, we are carrying 10 million more customers a year and, as part of our huge (and continuing) investment programme, we have taken delivery of 86 new aircraft – including our first new long-haul types for 17 years.

Our network is growing again: we are now flying to 194 destinations from London, up from 146 five years ago. Uniquely for any travel company, we have won the Superbrand award two years running. And, as part of IAG, we have finally got the business into a position where we can repay shareholders’ faith with a dividend.

Our investment hasn’t been confined to new aircraft. We’ve refurbished all our Heathrow and Gatwick short-haul fleet, many of our Boeing 777s and we’re on to the 747s. We have transformed our lounges at Singapore, Cape Town, Washington, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and elsewhere, and we continue to develop the BA app. The competition we face is unrelenting and we know you have a choice.

Stepping down from BA, I look forward to pursuing other interests at a more leisurely pace – and flying on BA aircraft without being legally responsible for everyone on board! In the process, I hope to see many of you.