In Summary
  • Despite carrying the weight of the airline on his shoulders, he did not look defeated.
  • But with his resignation, the loss-making airline has destroyed another chief executive officer.
  • He follows in the footsteps of Mbuvi Ngunze, another CEO who also fell by the wayside.

Sebastian Mikosz, the Polish expat headhunted to turn around Kenya Airways, could not accept defeat.

He could not wait for Parliament to hand in its verdict and opted to jump out of the financial disaster that is Kenya Airways. Insiders say his mode of operation left no doubt that it was either his way or the highway.

KITCHEN CABINET

With Parliament not fully convinced to hand him everything on his wish list, he appears to have settled on the only way to send the strongest message.

Mikosz is not the type of captain who sinks with his ship. Caught between a rock and a hard place, he jumped.

Mikosz, who speaks fluent French, English and Russian in addition to his native Polish, was appointed in 2017 and was seen as the fresh pair of hands that would stop the national carrier’s loss-making streak, largely due to his experience turning around LOT Polish Airlines, the flag carrier of Poland.

But with his resignation, the loss-making airline has destroyed another chief executive officer. He follows in the footsteps of Mbuvi Ngunze, another CEO who also fell by the wayside.

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.

A powerful board chairman in Michael Joseph did not help his desire to centralise power and decision-making so as to whip everyone into shape and implement his strategy without glancing over his shoulders.

And when his decision to resign was tabled, the airline’s board was split down the middle; three in favour and three against. It was the board chair who would break the tie, in a decisive vote that saw the board accept the resignation.

FEW OPTIONS

When he visited the Nation Centre on Thursday last week, Mikosz sounded like a hunter who had missed all his shots. Despite carrying the weight of the airline on his shoulders, he did not look defeated. He cut the image of a man who was crying more than the bereaved, and was wondering why it was difficult for Kenyans to see just how few options they had been left with to rescue their national flag carrier.

“No one including myself is a miracle man. It is not the CEO that is turning around the airline. He is only leading the direction, but then everybody around must want to turn around the airline,” Mr Mikosz said.

“You cannot make an airline profitable in one year. Unless you allow me to go outside the law, then it is not possible,” he said.

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.

He said the airline had come out of the publicised restructuring deal with its lenders empty.

“I came in when the airline was finishing a very significant financial restructuring. So when I joined the airline, I was concerned with what was going on,” he said.

“The restructuring was a very sweet deal for everyone except KQ. Banks, lessors and all other parties all got something but the restructuring did not help solve the financial problems of the airline,” he said.

PARADIGM SHIFT

He said the government saved the airline from going into bankruptcy by giving it a sovereign guarantee that allowed it to turn its creditors into shareholders by converting their debt into equity.

He said his strategy was based on three principles — cost-cutting, growth and the deal with JKIA.

“On paper, turning around the airline is extremely simple. You just cut the costs,” he said.

He added his first strategy was to stop the airline from shrinking any further.

“I do not believe that you can turn around the airline by shrinking it. KQ’s market situation is really detrimental and we keep losing market share. We needed to change the paradigm from an airline that is not growing to one that is growing,” he added. He says that is why he refused to sell any more assets of the firm.

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