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SAirGroup finds little support among Swiss commentators

SAirGroup needs a new direction

(Keystone Archive)

In the wake of Philippe Bruggisser's departure as chief executive of SAirGroup, Swiss newspapers say the company urgently needs a credible strategy for the future.

The Swiss papers took a dim view of the situation at SAirGroup on Wednesday, with headlines like: "Bruggisser given the boot", "Swissair - a pilot please", "Failure of a strategy", "Dream or Nightmare" and "In a dead-end street".

Bruggisser stepped down on Tuesday amid speculation that the group was calling a halt to its so far unprofitable strategy of acquiring stakes in smaller European carriers.

The SAirGroup said on Tuesday that it would now concentrate on making its airline business profitable and focus on upgrading the appeal of Swissair, regional carrier Crossair and the Belgian airline, Sabena, of which it is a part owner.

Bruggisser finds favour in the pages of the "Bund" newspaper of Bern, which says he did not take over as chief executive to sell national carrier, Swissair, or to reduce the airline to a mere feeder in a global alliance.

"He dared to embark on a forward strategy fraught with risks to build up a European network to compensate partly for the small home market," the newspaper says.

It adds that it was Bruggisser's misfortune that he wanted to realise his expansion strategy in the middle of adverse conditions, namely with an expensive dollar and high fuel prices.

A note of sympathy for Bruggisser is also evident in "24 Heures" of Lausanne, which says it would be wrong to criticise the former boss's strategy and his lack of results outright.

"The airline sector is a battle field, from which no one can leave without injury," it says.

The Tages Anzeiger of Zurich says the SAirGroup's board of directors must accept a share of the blame for supporting Bruggisser's strategy for too long and manoeuvring itself into a dead-end situation.

It points out that the "strategy was worked out... by Credit Suisse boss, Lukas Mühlemann, when he was employed by McKinsey", and adds that the SAirGroup today holds a colourful portfolio of mostly loss-making airlines.

"The image of some of the companies involved is far below that of Swissair, although its quality is not what it used to be," it says.

Quality is also a theme taken up by Zurich's "Neue Zürcher Zeitung", which argues that it is now time to focus on Swissair.

"Quality improvements are needed, in particular, in the areas of punctuality, training, service and seating comfort. Only with these can it regain the goodwill that it has lost," the NZZ says.

The Geneva newspaper "Le Temps" says that there will be a number of people in the French-speaking part of Switzerland who will be glad about the "palace revolution". For them Bruggisser was a "Devil" for demoting as a hub for Swissair.

The paper, like many, also says that Bruggisser's departure leaves many questions unanswered. It asks about the future of the SAirGroup's French, German, Italian and Polish engagements.

"And more fundamentally, can Swissair, Crossair and Sabena continue without the support of a large alliance or a large company," it asks.

It adds that the SAirGroup's board of directors has shown it can make heads roll but it still has everything to prove.

by Robert Brookes


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