THE Shannon Group must act quickly to replace CEO Neil Pakey and take the airport to the “next level”, according to business leaders in the region.
Confirmation that Mr Pakey is to leave the company when his three-year contract expires in June was announced by the company on Tuesday.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader after the announcement, Mr Pakey said he would be “sad to leave Limerick – there is no doubt about it. I think I will have had - because we are going to continue to develop the business over the next six months – so I will have had three fantastic years,” he said.
Mr Pakey declined to discuss the factors surrounding his contract not being renewed and said it was for others to judge his time in office but said that “it feels like the general response is positive” to his tenure, one that oversaw both a period of growth in the airport and across the heritage group he oversees.
Traffic at Shannon has grown around 20% since independence and it turned a profit in its first year removed from the Dublin Airport Authority. However, the rate of growth had slowed during key months this year, before rising slightly in November by 4%, although it is expected to see the third successive growth in Christmas passenger numbers.
Mr Pakey, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry and was formerly managing director of John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, also oversaw the restoration of the popular regional service from Shannon to Edinburgh from March, which was a major focus of his plans in recent months.
Shannon Group chair Rose Hynes said that Mr Pakey “came on board as CEO at an exciting time for Shannon as it embarked on life as an independent entity and during his tenure many milestones have been achieved”.
“From an airport perspective we have returned Shannon to growth following five years of successive decline and by the end of 2015 passenger numbers will be up by 22% from where we started out,” she said.
She also noted positive developments in the sphere of Shannon Commercial Properties, the establishment of the International Aviation Services Centre at Shannon and growing visitor numbers to the sites controlled by Shannon Heritage.
She said he had made a “vital contribution to the revitalisation of Shannon Airport and formation of the wider group”. Ms Hynes said the Group would “now embark on the task of appointing his successor”.
Chamber chief Dr James Ring said he was “surprised and disappointed” at the news.
“The onus is on the board now to ensure the good work is continued. Neil has made excellent strides in what I imagine was a very challenging environment. What is important is they get someone quickly, and of the same kind of calibre Neil is,” he said.
Former airport director Tadhg Kearney said Shannon had made “great progress” since independence, and under Mr Pakey and Ms Hynes.
“They have given the airport back its character, they are increasing the number of services and I think the public are pleased with the way the company is being run and the way the airport is serving the community. I think Neil has played a very significant role in this process. He has been very effective in delivering an airport we can call our own.”
Strand Hotel manager Sean Lally praised Mr Pakey as doing “an excellent job”.
“He brought a great deal of experience to the airport, and leaves it in a very strong place. Now it needs to be taken to the next level. There is a huge opportunity for someone to come in and do precisely that,” said Mr Lally.
Metropolitan Mayor Cllr Jerry O’Dea said Mr Pakey had put Shannon “on a very solid platform. The results speak for themselves. He really has scaled the business into a new phase of its history. Hopefully they will replace Neil with someone of equal calibre and we can look forward to a bright future”.
In the statement from the Shannon Group confirming his departure, Mr Pakey said he was looking forward to a “new challenge” having completed the agreed three-year term as CEO. “I’ve worked with a great management team and a great Board and we’ve really transformed the Shannon Group during the past three years,” he said.
“We’ve put it on a sound financial and commercial footing, we’ve expanded operations, won new contracts, grown passenger and visitor numbers and won numerous awards,” he added. “We are running what is predominately a people and service business and the employees are proving to be the linchpin of the success and I would like to give credit where it’s due,” Mr Pakey added.