The day Cramer Ball was named the new CEO of Jet Airways, in May 2014, the airline also announced its biggest ever quarterly loss of Rs 2,153 crore, for the March quarter of the preceding financial year. This was the airline’s fifth straight quarterly loss, and the seventh consecutive year that it was ending in red.
By the time Ball stepped down in December 2015, Jet was showing signs of turning around. In fact, in that December quarter, the airline announced its biggest-ever quarterly profit.
While analysts praised him, they pointed out two things. One, much of the financial turnaround owed to lower fuel prices and that some of Jet’s structural challenges remained; and Ball’s short stint again underlined the leadership issue in Jet. He was the third CEO to quit in less than three years, reflecting the not-so-easy equation that chief executives have had with then Chairman Naresh Goyal.
That mixed experience has now come to matter, more than ever, as Ball plays a crucial role in Etihad’s renewed interest in Jet.
The Abu Dhabi-based airline is widely expected to submit its expression of interest for the distressed Indian airline. The window opened on April 8, and the bidders have to submit their EoIs by April 10. The bidding process is being overseen by Jet’s lenders, led by State Bank of India.
Etihad currently owns 24 percent stake in Jet.
Given the prior experience, it was not surprising that Etihad insisted on Goyal’s exit before investing any more money in Jet Airways.
In an interview to industry association IATA in March, Eithad’s CEO Tony Douglas said the airline will no longer continue with its equity alliance strategy. “Being a shareholder, often without full control, but providing financial and human resource assistance in an environment where you cannot derive fair and reasonable benefit, simply does not work,” he said.
While the Jet founder has now let go of the reins, Etihad also had some other conditions. That included exemption from giving an open offer, in case its stake in Jet Airways crosses the 25-percent threshold.
And that is where Ball has been leading the negotiations. He and other senior members of Etihad management were in Mumbai last week, meeting top banking officials. Sources added that the now Etihad Senior Adviser was back in India on April 8, to continue with the talks.
“If Cramer Ball is there, then things will move. He means business,” says an executive from the industry. Ball had joined Jet, after turning around Air Seychelles, another partner airline of Etihad. And he had went on to join Alitalia, which though later went into bankruptcy.