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Nestlé official touted as likely successor to SAirGroup boss

Mario Corti could be SAirGroup's next president

(Keystone Archive)

Speculation is mounting as to who will succeed Eric Honegger as SAirGroup president, following the mass resignation of the management board on Friday. Mario Corti, the only board member not to step down, is being touted as the most likely candidate.

Media reports on Sunday speculated that Corti would take over at the helm of the troubled SAirGroup, when the remaining members of the management board step down next year.

The "SonntagsBlick" newspaper said he may even take over from Honegger at SAirGroup's next general meeting on April 25.

It is not clear why Corti did not resign with the rest of the board last Friday.

The Ticinese jurist and economist has held top positions at Switzerland's National Bank and the federal office for foreign trade. He is currently financial director of the Swiss food giant, Nestlé.

The French-language newspaper, "Le Matin" suggested two other possible successors to Honegger including André Kudelski and Armin Meyer. Kudelski is a member of the management board of the Kudelski Group, which specialises in digital technologies, while Meyer is head of the Swiss chemicals group, Ciba.

On Friday, the management board took collective responsibility for SAirGroup's financial problems by resigning en masse. Five board members are to step down at the annual general meeting on April 25, while four others, including the outgoing president, Eric Honegger, will leave by spring 2002.

The board is also to be slimmed down to seven members - three of whom will be appointed in April.

Analysts say SAirGroup needs a SFr1 billion credit injection to avoid bankruptcy. The Swiss newspaper, SonntagsZeitung, said the company made a SFr2.5 billion loss in the past year, and is currently losing SFr7 million a day.

They say the company's next move is likely to be a link-up with a major international airline alliance, such as the "OneWorld" grouping, led by British Airways and American Airlines.

Adding to SAirGroup's financial woes is the news that a law firm, based in Winterthur, may file liability suits against members of the outgoing board, in a bid to protect shareholders' interests.

The SonntagsZeitung said that the legal firm, Hans-Jacob Heitz, has started investigating whether shareholders were sufficiently informed of risks taken by SAirGroup when it acquired stakes in several mainly loss-making airlines abroad.

So far, the government, which holds a three per cent stake in SAirGroup, says it has no plans to intervene.

The board's decision to step down is the latest in a series of high-profile departures at the troubled group, which in January called a halt to its strategy of expansion, following mounting losses among many of its affiliates, including Belgium's Sabena.

The newly-appointed head of the airline division, Moritz Suter, resigned unexpectedly last Wednesday after just 44 days on the job. Differences with the board over structure and his failure to get his own way over decision-making were cited as reasons for his premature departure.

Suter was drafted in to take charge of Swissair, Crossair and Sabena, as well as a string of stakes in other European airlines.

His appointment came in the wake of the resignation of chief executive, Philippe Bruggisser, who left the company in January after his policy of buying into foreign airlines and other ventures was deemed too costly and unsuccessful.

Bruggisser's departure was followed shortly afterwards by that of Paul Reutlinger, head of the group's French interests, which include stakes in three loss-making regional airlines.

swissinfo with agencies


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