In the March issue of ATW (Air Transport World), the industry magazine announced the recipients of their 39th Annual Airline Industry Achievement Awards. In total, the magazine recognized excellence in 7 categories. One of these awards is the Joseph S. Murphy Lifetime Achievement Award, named after the founder of the Magazine. For 2013, the magazine bestowed the honor upon Lufthansa’s Chairman Of The Supervisory Board, Herr Jürgen Weber.
Herr Weber was recognized for his outstanding career and invaluable vision and contributions that helped rescue Lufthansa from the the depths of a government-run bureaucracy and turn it into one of the world’s largest and most respected airlines. With a career that has spanned nearly 46 years, there is little about Lufthansa that has not been influenced by Herr Weber.
When asked by ATW about his strategy that helped turn Lufthansa around, he referred to 3 key pillars:
“1. Accept the sea-change of airline liberalization and economic globalization without any ifs and buts and restructure the airline accordingly.”
“2. Initiate a mindset-change process with our staff that would turn an organization of career-oriented government officials into a team of customer-drive people fully devoted to give excellent service. This may have been the most difficult, most time consuming, but the most import of the tasks.”
“3. Turn around our fate as a loss-making outfit and make it an effectively structured aviation group and a soundly funded private enterprise.”
As far as the impact that Herr Weber has had on Lufthansa that we see day to day as passengers and fans of the airline, he was responsible for the breaking up of Lufthansa into the various companies we see today: Cargo, Passenger Airline, Systems, Technik, Catering, etc. Each of these companies is given the flexibility to run their business the way they see fit, but are accountable to the overall company known as The Lufthansa Group. The idea behind this was to allow each company to stand on it’s own merits and make it’s own decisions based on the line of business that they are in.
Another absolutely obvious impact that we see every day thanks to Herr Weber is the Star Alliance. It was his vision in the early 1990’s that suggested airlines leverage each other’s strengths which among other things includes routes and timetables. His theory at the time suggested that the airlines would be stronger if they cooperated with each other versus competing against one another. This foresight led to the creation of the Star Alliance in 1997 when Lufthansa, United, Thai, Air Canada and SAS penned an agreement to cooperate with each other. Today the alliance membership is 27-strong and is the largest airline alliance in the world, setting the standard by which others are measured.
As I read through the interview which went into great detail on Herr Weber, it would seem unlikely that there is another candidate in the airline industry that is more deserving of this award than Herr Weber. With nearly half of a century of service to Lufthansa and being credited with saving the airline from mediocrity, finding someone to compare him to could be nearly impossible.