Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Monday, 29 January 2007

Profile: BA boss Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh
Mr Walsh began work at Aer Lingus as a pilot
The deal ending the dispute between British Airways and its cabin crew staff will doubtless enhance the reputation of the airline's boss.

Irishman Willie Walsh took a high-profile role in the negotiations with the Transport & General Workers Union that led to an agreement on the key issues of pay, pensions and sick leave.

Mr Walsh said he was "really pleased" with the conclusion to the talks and called the deal "a solid foundation for working for the future".

But when he arrived at BA in October 2005, he was better known for being forthright and uncompromisingly direct in his dealings with trade unions.

It was a policy that worked wonders in his previous job at the helm of leading Irish carrier Aer Lingus.

While guiding Aer Lingus through the turbulence in the airline industry after the 11 September 2001 attacks, Mr Walsh took a no-nonsense approach with the Irish unions.

Successfully reinventing Aer Lingus as a profitable no-frills airline, while other established European flag carriers went to the wall, he slashed costs by 30% and shed more than a third of staff.

He refused to apologise for the swingeing cuts, saying "we make no apologies for focusing on profit".

Not distracted by a stand-off with unions that led to a three-day lockout in 2002, Mr Walsh once claimed in an Aer Lingus staff publication that "a reasonable man gets nowhere in negotiations".

History of strikes

Mr Walsh's obvious toughness and eye for increased profitability no doubt caught the attention of BA's board.

Aer Lingus planes on runway
Mr Walsh pushed through huge cost cuts at Aer Lingus

After the UK airline's long history of staff disputes, most recently the wildcat walkouts in August 2005 in support of sacked workers at the airline's main caterer, he must have seemed ideal.

But there have been no strikes since Mr Walsh took up the chief executive's position at BA, while the airline's profits have risen.

Born in 1961, Mr Walsh joined Aer Lingus in 1979 as a cadet pilot, gradually worked his way up through the ranks into flight operations management in the mid-1990s.

In 1998, he became chief executive of Futura, the company's chartered airline in Spain, then was named Aer Lingus chief finance officer in 2000, before being promoted to chief executive in 2001.

He is renowned for not driving an expensive car and choosing not to take on a secretary, instead writing all his own letters and answering his own phone.

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