More problems for Branson empire as Virgin Atlantic boss Steve Ridgway quits

It hasn’t been a good year for Richard Branson and his Virgin empire and now he has suffered another blow with the departure of long-serving Virgin Atlantic boss Steve Ridgway.

Virgin Atlantic is still reeling from the purchase of small British carrier BMI from Lufthansa by British Airways which has given wily BA boss Willie Walsh more transfer traffic. BA, now part of International Airlines Group which includes loss-making Iberia, has also squeezed Virgin through its joint venture with American Airlines on the transatlantic route, effectively a cartel which has somehow bypassed the regulators.

Having made his name and much of his fortune tweaking BA’s beard, Branson now finds his own copious facial hair on the receiving end. Last year VA plunged to £80m of losses and the last thing he seems to need is to lose a sure-footed executive like Ridgway (left). Ridgway, however, has complained publicly recently about his pay (about £300,000, not much for such a job especially considering that Branson owns all the shares). Some industry sources believe Branson had already decided to replace Ridgway with CCO Julie Southern, formerly finance director.

Ridgway’s departure will also alarm current Virgin Atlantic agency RKCR/Y&R. Ridgway has been admirably disciplined in his choice of advertising, somehow managing to keep his boss out of his commercials. Whoever takes over will surely take the same view but, probably, only privately.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.