Al Baker’s financial track record, let alone his degrading and sexist comments, would disqualify him from leadership in most companies, but apparently not at the state-owned and subsidized Qatar Airways.
Incredibly, CAPA still chose him as their CEO of the year. Their stated reasoning, on its face, sounds logical. Ignoring Al Baker’s boorish July comments, CAPA stated: “Akbar Al Baker has not let Qatar Airways lose its shine during one of its most testing years. Under his guidance, the airline has recalibrated its network to function without access to several neighbouring countries. At the same time, Qatar Airways has continued its expansion plans and created new avenues for growth. He has turned a setback into an opportunity.”
Without any further exploration, yes, that sounds like a notable achievement. But it only takes a little reasoning to deduce how Qatar Airways was able to “overcome” this challenging period of economic and geopolitical setbacks. Subsidies. Obviously.
In 2017 alone, Qatar Airways received nearly $500 million in illegal government subsidies from the State of Qatar. This is on top of the more than $26 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”) in government subsidies that Qatar has received since 2004 in direct violation of the Open Skies agreement it holds with the United States.
Without government subsidies, Qatar Airways would have been insolvent a long time ago. No private investor would invest in a company with so much red ink on its books. Certainly, Qatar Airways could not have turned a “setback into an opportunity” without direct subsidies from the state. That isn’t leadership by Al Baker, that is unfair patronage from the government supporting his airline.
Without government backing, Al Baker would have been thrown out of the company for his sexist and undignified comments. No corporate board of directors would put up with his vulgar conduct. Again, that isn’t leadership worthy of an award, it is crudeness that should be reprimanded, not rewarded.
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