SHANNON Group CEO Neil Pakey will not have his contract renewed when it expires next June, it was announced on Tuesday.
While Shannon Airport has returned to growth since separation from the Dublin Airport Authority in 2013, this year the increase in passenger numbers is set to be relatively minor, in the order of 4%.
Shannon will only reach about two-thirds of the 2021 target of having 2.5million passengers. Indeed, a target of 2.3m passengers by 2017 is very unlikely to be met. It has also lost a handful of routes in recent times, while competing airports have had more positive developments.
There is shock in some quarters that Mr Pakey’s contract is not being renewed, as Shannon Group (which also includes Shannon Commercial Properties and Shannon Heritage) has frequently expressed satisfaction with the progress made during his tenure.
On Tuesday afternoon, Clare TD Timmy Dooley said the decision by the board of Shannon Group raises a number of serious questions. “I was very surprised that his contract was not renewed by the board, when you consider we have been fed a diet of positive press release after positive press release from Shannon, championing the growth of the airport. I’m really surprised by the decision not to renew his contract. The decision of the board now raises questions around the previous positive spin.
“Were things as positive as they told us? If things were going as well as we were told, why would they not retain the services of Neil Pakey? It raises further questions about the future viability of the airport. In light of this announcement, I have written to the Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport seeking to have representatives of the board come before the committee early in the new year, to outline the current position of the company.”
The Shannon Group statement released on Tuesday included a number of quotes from chairman, Rose Hynes pointing out positive developments that occurred during Mr Pakey’s time with the company, but there was no explanation for why the contract is not being renewed.
She concluded saying, “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Neil for this vital contribution to the revitalisation of Shannon Airport and formation of the wider group. He will leave in June with Shannon Group on a very positive footing, primed for growth, and we now embark on the task of appointing his successor”.
The statement also included a quote from Mr Pakey. “We’ve put it on a sound financial and commercial footing, we’ve expanded operations, won new contracts, grown passenger and visitor numbers and won numerous awards. We are running what is predominantly a people and service business and the employees are proving to be the lynchpin of the success and I would like to give credit where it is due. I would like to thank the board for having given me the opportunity, as well for their support during the last three years. There’s an exciting future for the group and I wish the board well in recruiting a new CEO to carry on this work,” he said.
Fine Gael TD Pat Breen said he would be sorry to see the Scotsman leaving. “I’m sorry to see his departure and I wish him well. I had worked with him very closely on a regular basis, he would have relied on me a lot from a political angle. His time there was very successful, it was a successful tenure and I’m saddened to see him leaving.”
His party colleague Joe Carey also complimented the work Mr Pakey has done. “He was a leading player in the rebirth of Shannon. In his time as CEO he managed to halt the decline in passenger numbers and he put Shannon back on the map. It won awards as airport of the year, which shows the quality of his stewardship of Shannon over the last number of years. He certainly rose to the challenge given to him by the board following his appointment and I wish him well with his next venture.”
Deputy Carey said it is important that someone with a similar stature in the industry is appointed as CEO.
Mr Pakey came to Shannon with a glittering reputation, having been managing director of Liverpool John Lennon Airport for an eight-year spell, when passenger numbers rocketed from 867,000 per year to 5.5 million.
He also held senior management positions at Manchester Airport plc, at a time when passenger numbers increased from less than six million per annum to over 16 million.
In 2014 his overall package at Shannon was worth in excess of €280,000.