Sir Mike Rake says he will leave in summer but seek re-election next month to ensure smooth handover
The outgoing easyJet chairman, Sir Mike Rake, could still risk a battle with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of the airline, as he intends to stay in position until a successor is found.
Rake, who has survived numerous attempts by Stelios to oust him, said he would leave in the summer but will seek re-election at the annual meeting on 21 February, in order to ensure a smooth handover.
Sources close to Stelios, whose family owns 37% of the airline, said he had been preparing to demand Rake’s resignation at the firm’s forthcoming AGM. Now Rake has announced his intention to quit, it is not clear if Stelios will oppose him continuing in the role over the next few months.
Stelios has previously attacked Rake’s handling of multimillion executive bonuses and proposals to order new aircraft. Last summer he accused Rake of failing to investigate the Libor rigging scandal at Barclays, where he was a senior independent director and is now deputy chairman.
Rake said he was leaving at a time when easyJet was on the “threshold of entry into the FTSE 100”.
Rake is also chairman of BT and non-executive director of the US publisher McGraw-Hill. Corporate governance guidelines warn against anyone chairing more than one FTSE 100 company at the same time.
“In advance of the forthcoming AGM I wanted to make my position clear. easyJet has by any definition enjoyed a period of success and profitable growth in the last three years. As this takes the airline to the threshold of entry to the FTSE 100 it is the right time for me to stand down,” Rake said. “It has been a tremendous experience to chair easyJet over the last three years.”
The deputy chairman, Charles Gurassa, said Rake had “overseen a more than doubling in the value of the company through the successful delivery of easyJet’s strategy of sustainable growth and returns, refreshed the board, appointed a new chief executive and finance director, introduced dividend payments and led the negotiation of a new brand licence agreement”.
Rake, who was promoted to chairman in January 2010, supervised the appointment of the former Guardian Media Group boss Carolyn McCall as chief executive in July of the same year.
Gurassa has been suggested as the frontrunner to replace Rake, and it has been pointed out that he is one of the few directors that Stelios has not tried to vote off the easyJet board.
Last week Stelios threatened to sell his family’s dominant stake in the carrier if it ordered more aircraft. Stelios, who started the airline in 1995 when he was 28, said he sold 200,000 shares last week in a “token disposal” to send a clear message to the board.
He warned in an open letter that if easyJet’s bosses “squander any more of our cash” on new aircraft, his family would sell more of their 37% stake in the carrier. That stake is worth £1.3bn, with last week’s sale raising about £1.7m.