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EasyJet picks former RBS and RSA boss Hester as new chairman

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Airline easyJet has picked the turnaround expert who headed RBS and RSA to lead its board over the next year as it aims to recover from the shattering pandemic.

The company said on Monday that Stephen Hester had been chosen as its new chairman. He will start the job in December this year.

Mr Hester is best known from his years at Royal Bank of Scotland in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

There, his task was to steer the bank through the fallout to the financial crisis, which hit RBS harder than almost any other bank in the country.

Since the financial crisis, RBS Group – now called NatWest – has been slimming down from its position as one of the world’s biggest banks.

It was a process put in place by Mr Hester and continued by his successors after he stood down in 2013 following several high-profile rows with politicians over his bonus and RBS’s lending to small business.

He later joined RSA Insurance, another company which needed help turning around.

But in May RSA was sold to be broken up by one Danish and one Canadian buyer – a deal Mr Hester in part helped negotiate while recovering from surgery in hospital.

Since then, despite some other board positions, the boss has been a free agent.

Mr Hester had put himself on the market publicly in April. In an interview with the Times, he made it clear he was free to take on new roles.

“While I don’t rule anything out, executive or otherwise, my focus is to try to find a suitable chairman role over the next year or so,” he said.

Mr Hester became a tabloid favourite at one point, carrying pictures of him on a horse in hunting gear.

EasyJet flight programme
EasyJet and other airlines want to bounce back from the pandemic (David Parry/PA)

He owns a 400-acre estate in Oxfordshire and is thought to have gained about £16 million from the sale of his shares in RSA.

On Monday, he said: “As a long-standing admirer of easyJet, and from my own experience as a customer, I am very excited to be joining the airline and look forward to playing my part in driving its continued success.

“I see so many opportunities for this iconic brand in the coming years, all underpinned by its proven business model, unrivalled network and loyal customer base.

“I am convinced we can be winners in the European airline industry of the future, serving customers well and driving attractive shareholder value. I can’t wait to join the easyJet team.”

Outgoing chairman John Barton said: “I am delighted that Stephen has been appointed as the next chair of easyJet.

“His significant and varied experience leading major international businesses in regulated industries, coupled with his outstanding strategic thinking, will serve the airline well as it leads the recovery in the post-pandemic era, complementing and adding to the skills of the existing board and leadership team.”

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