The decision to appoint Barbadian Julie Reifer-Jones as the new chief executive officer of the cash-strapped regional airline LIAT has been described as nothing short of a mistake by frequent flyer and airline commentator Robert Pitcher.
The regional businessman told Barbados TODAY he had absolutely no confidence that Reifer-Jones could turn around the fortunes of the troubled regional carrier, given that she had acted in the position several times in the past without making a difference.
Reifer-Jones, an accountant, was appointed as the airline’s chief executive at the beginning of this month, almost a year after British-born David Evans quit the post.
She is the first woman to be appointed to the top position at the airline, which is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Reifer-Jones said she was delighted over her appointment and was looking forward to delivering an improved level of service from LIAT to the region.
However, Pitcher said he failed to see how that could happen under her watch, given that the Antigua-based carrier continued to struggle financially while she held the post of chief financial officer. He is therefore predicting that she will not last long in the position.
“Having sat on the board as the chief financial officer and failing to improve the quality of service and the cost of service of the airline through the Caribbean, how can you elevate that person from a failed position to put her to the very top position?
“What are we doing? Are we making things worse, or is this a way of relieving her of both duties at the same time? Because most of the CEOs, as you can see, doing nothing, they eventually go,” Pitcher said.
“She acted on more than one occasion as the . . . CEO but . . . [achieved] nothing. Just a title but no changes were made,” he stressed.
At the same time, Pitcher is maintaining that the entire LIAT board of directors should be fired and a new board installed, made up of businesspeople from shareholder countries, including former Antigua and Barbuda Senator Aziz Hadeed, Barbadian businessmen Ralph Bizzy Williams and Mark Maloney, and Dominican hotelier Gregor Nassief.
“We need people like these to come and revamp the airline and make it successful. Not in the form of making millions of dollars but to make the airline efficient in service, affordable for the Caribbean people to travel from one island to the next and to keep the reserves in the Caribbean instead of taking them out to North America, because every time you buy foreign tickets the money go out, it don’t stay here,” the businessman said, while insisting that “there can be no changes in LIAT unless the whole board goes”.
He said apart from bad management, he believed poor planning had contributed to the airline current troubles.
“We fail to [address] the problem. The problem is the board. The problem is not LIAT . . . If we do not get rid of the board and top management of LIAT it will always function in the same capacity it is functioning in. It will cost the taxpayers of the Caribbean more money to fly within the Caribbean and you will find that the capacity load will become much less because of the high cost it takes to be able to fly,” he added.