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EasyJet Chair Rake In Departure Lounge

(c) Sky News 2013

The chairman of easyJet, Britain's biggest airline by passenger numbers and revenues, is to step down this summer after a four-year tussle with the company's founder over its fleet size and strategy.

Sir Mike Rake will leave once a successor has been identified, about three-and-a-half years after he took on the chairmanship.

EasyJet (Other OTC: ESYJY - news) brought forward the announcement of Sir Mike's departure on Saturday afternoon following a leak to Sky News.

A statement had been due to be issued by the company next week but a spokesman said the company had decided to confirm news of Sir Mike's departure after its City advisers were made aware of the leak.

In the statement, easyJet said it had already started a process to recruit a new chairman.

The news of Sir Mike's intention to quit comes days after shares hit an all-time high on the back of a surge in more profitable business travellers using the airline. It also benefited from capacity cuts by rival carriers during the winter months.

That solid performance has not appeased Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who - alongside a number of family members - is easyJet's largest investor.

Last week he threatened to sell his shareholding if the company proceeded with a major new aircraft order.

EasyJet is poised to join the FTSE 100 (FTSE: ^FTSE - news) following its next quarterly review in March, which will mean that Sir Mike chairs two companies in the blue-chip index.

He is also chairman of BT (LSE: BT-A.L - news) , and was a leading candidate to replace Marcus Agius at the helm of Barclays (LSE: BARC.L - news) following the bank's £290m fine for Libor rate-rigging.

"In advance of the forthcoming [annual general meeting] I wanted to make my position clear," Sir Mike said. 

"easyJet has by any definition enjoyed a period of success and profitable growth in the last three years. 

"As this takes the airline to the threshold of entry to the FTSE 100 it is the right time for me to stand down.

"Carolyn McCall and her management team have developed and implemented the right strategy for the airline which is already bearing fruit wth record profits, a healthy share price and strong dividends.

"The airline is now well positioned to continue to deliver profitable growth and returns for all its shareholders."

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