New era for Crossair as board of directors steps down

The founder of Crossair, Moritz Suter, stepped down as chairman on Thursday swissinfo.ch

Moritz Suter, founder and chairman of Crossair, and the airline's board of directors have stepped down to make way for a new team.

This content was published on December 7, 2001 - 11:09

At the end of an emotional, six-hour extraordinary meeting attended by 2,500 Crossair shareholders at the St Jakobshalle in Basel, the chairman-elect Pieter Bouw said he and his new 11-member board would do everything possible to ensure the future development of the airline.

"We should look ahead to a future not of conflict," 60-year-old Bouw told shareholders, "but filled with determination to turn the new airline into one of the best in Europe."

Under a plan hammered out in October between banks, government and industry leaders, Crossair will take over 52 aircraft from the collapsed national carrier, Swissair, and transform itself from a short-haul regional European carrier into Switzerland's new international airline.

Criticism of Swissair

Earlier in the day, Crossair's resigning chairman took the opportunity to issue a stongly worded criticism of Swissair, saying it had in the past misused its monopoly position as the national airline.

Suter said there were too few people with too much power at the top of the economic and political realm in Switzerland.

"We must do everything we can to dismantle the centralization of this political and economic power as soon as we can. Switzerland's strength has always been its cultural diversity," Suter said.

"But if we wish to remain true to this key, basic principle, we must fight against it: and we must do so right now," he added.

"Many years ago I had an idea. A dream. It was out of this dream that Crossair emerged," he said, in one of the session's most dramatic moments.

"That dream was never aimed against Swissair."

Suter outlined the chain of events following the collapse of the Swissair Group in October and the decision to build a new intercontinental airline around his regional airline.

"There is something wrong in our country, and at the highest levels of our political and corporate world," he said, arguing that the way the successful Crossair board had been "removed" was "disconcerting".

In the scathing speech, which received a standing ovation, he said he and the outgoing Crossair board had had little to say about the future of Crossair with regard to the new investment and the plans made by the steering committee, led by Nestlé chairman Rainer Gut.

"It is unnecessarily hurtful and unfair in the extreme. And the fact that the government offered its support to such a procedure should be cause for serious thought," Suter said.

Whistles and boos

Remarks from Professor Peter Forstmoser, who represented the steering committee, brought the meeting alive.

Whistles, boos and jeers interrupted him as he explained the thinking behind the nomination of the new board. He pleaded for the same respect as other speakers.

Forstmoser, chairman of the Swiss Reinsurance company, admitted there had been mistakes in communication by the steering committee.

Praising the services of Suter, Forstmoser said he understood the concerns of people from Basel about the future of the new airline. But he said concerns from Zurich or Geneva also had to be considered.

At one point, Forstmoser smiled ruefully and asked: "Even if I am from Zurich, can someone bring me a glass of water?"

He explained that the steering committee did not ask Suter to play an active role because despite his enthusiasm he also polarised people and was not the best person for the integration process.

But the loudest discontent came when Forstmoser said there were voices against him at Swissair.

Forstmoser was also representing the big Swiss banks, UBS and Credit Suisse.

The two banks have 70.5 per cent of the share capital of Crossair since the collapse of the Swissair group, with the remainder in the hands of 12,000 small share-holders.

Largest shareholders meeting

The session, the largest in the company's history, was the first shareholders meeting since the collapse of Swissair.

Under plans for the new airline, Crossair will be the nucleus of a national airline that includes 52 aircraft from Swissair.

The package also involves a SFr4 billion ($2.4 billion) injection of cash already accepted at the highest levels of business and government.

The new national airline will likely lose SFr1.1 billion ($663 million) next year, said Crossair Chief Executive Andre Dosé. But he said he expects the airline to break even in 2003.

"The first two years will be difficult, but we are confident that from 2004 we will be able to show improved results," he said.

by Robert Brookes

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