Less than a month ago, on 17 April 2019, Jet Airways took the painful decision to close down operations for the lack of funds. On May 14, four key top-level executives quit within hours of each other. These were the CEO Vinay Dube, the CFO/Deputy CEO Amit Agarwal, the Company Secretary Kuldeep Sharma and Rahul Taneja, the Chief People Officer.
So why did four top-level professionals decide to quit the airline on the same day, all of them citing 'personal reasons' as their reason to move on? This followed the unsuccessful bidding process for the stake sale in the airline which was conducted by SBI Caps on behalf of the banks who Jet Airways owes $1.2 billion. This follows a spate of directors of the company stepping down over the previous month as well.
There could be many reasons, but these would all be in the realm of speculation. Given that Jet Airways at this point in time does not have a sponsor, someone who is fighting for the airline's survival, rather than against the airline, the C-level team did pretty well for themselves, staying on, giving a glimmer of hope to those who wanted to see the airline airborne after its operations were grounded. The Chief People Officer, Rahul Taneja, worked towards outplacing the talent pool of the company where he could as well. He did not have to, but he did secure a lot of careers, even before he left.
The C-Suite might have waited on till 10 May, hoping that a new owner coming in would want to resurrect the airline immediately, which would require their expertise and their long-standing knowledge of the working of the company. But when no firm commitments came through on the day, they figured it would be an endless loop to find a new owner, and perhaps decided to move on.
What does it mean for a new owner, even if one comes through at this stage? The airline has lost about two-thirds of its aircraft, a whole lot of their cabin staff, including pilots and cabin crew, their prime slots at major airports. In this situation, the other airlines who have taken over Jet Airways' temporary slots can be assured of not having to hand them back given Jet Airways, if it takes off again, will not have enough planes to take them all on day one. By the time this process gets to its logical conclusion, the airline might even lose its international flying rights. Given the entire top-brass of the airline is cleaned out right now, it would certainly mean that if someone decides to infuse money, the recovery process will be a lot slower, given that many old-timers would not be around to be a part of the revival.
Some people have speculated that the management going away could be a sign of a new investor coming on board. It sounds unlikely, given that none of these investors stepped up till Friday, 10 May. Any investor would like to know what they are getting into, and that would require them to examine the books of the company with a data room exercise, which said, fictional investors, have not done so far.
In such a case, the chances of the revival of the airline look bleak. Unless of course, an Indian aviation turnaround specialist steps right in and fixes the whole situation. Only an Indian would do, because people from outside of the country would take their own sweet time understanding our systems and processes. That would be too late.
(The writer is business travel & aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge (www.livefromalounge.com.)