Will Richard Branson Get To Kick Willie Walsh Where It Hurts? (Oh How I Hope So)


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I really don’t like Willie Walsh. I’ve never met the man and I have no wish to meet him, but anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to stand up at a investors briefing in front of a slide that reads “show me the f*cking money” and then repeats the phrase is an idiot in my book.

I’m not a massive fan of Richard Branson either (self-publicists don’t endear themselves to me) but I wouldn’t mind meeting the man and I think it would be interesting to share a few beers with him (especially after I tell him that I think his Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cabins are awful).

BA and Virgin Atlantic/Richard Branson have been at loggerheads for years – Virgin Atlantic aircraft used to fly with “no way BA/AA” painted on their sides and there was a long and protracted court case in which Branson sued BA for libel. After both sides paid fortunes in legal fees (BA paid at least £3m in 1993), Richard Branson was awarded £500,000 in damages and Virgin Atlantic was awarded £110,000. Adjusted for inflation that would be approximately £870,000/$1,150,000 today.

Image Jun Seita via Flickr

To those of us in the US that may not seem like much but, under the English legal system, that was a lot of money to win in a libel case back in 1993 and it was an embarrassment to BA and its then chairman Lord King.

Richard Branson took his winnings and divided them up equally amongst Virgin Atlantic employees – I like that he did that.

Fast forward to 5 years ago (11 December 2012) and British Airways (in the guise of Willie “I have no class” Walsh) is butting heads with Branson again.

Walsh suggested that the Virgin Atlantic name would be dead within a few years thanks to the investment from Delta.

Here’s what he is quoted as saying:

I can’t see Delta wanting to operate the Virgin brand, because if they do, what does that say about the Delta brand?

Delta believe they are the number one airline in the world, so what they would want to do is acquire the slots at Heathrow to enable them to have a strong presence at Heathrow.

Branson didn’t take kindly to those words and replied:

Rumours have been spread in the press that I am planning to give up control of Virgin Atlantic and, according to Willie Walsh – who runs BA – that our brand will soon disappear. This is wishful thinking and totally misguided. Will BA never learn?

Branson went on to suggest a wager. If the Virgin Atlantic brand was no longer still flying proud in 5 years time he would hand over £1,000,000 to be distributed amongst BA staff….as long as Walsh agreed to reciprocate and had over the same amount to Virgin’s staff.

Walsh’s retort? Here it is:

Branson is a billionaire banker, allegedly. I’m not a billionaire. So maybe a bet that would have as much pain to me as it would to him – a knee in the groin.

I would expect no more and no less from Walsh – still classless and still an idiot.

Well….

5 years are now up and guess what?…..the Virgin Atlantic brand is still up and running.

Branson hasn’t forgotten the wager (neither would I!) and is calling Walsh out for tying to “wriggle out of the bet“…..but he has also handed out an olive branch:

Although people might be amused to see me give Willie a low blow, I ideally have no wish to do so. So to settle this matter once and for all, and in the spirit of Christmas, I suggest he donates £1 million to Virgin Atlantic’s team.

If he doesn’t agree then we’ll just have to agree a time, date and place for the knee in the groin…

Once this is over (one way or the other) lunch or dinner is on me Willie, and perhaps we can draw a line under the past.

Branson may not wish to deal Walsh a low blow but I’m guessing there’s a long line of BA flyers who would love to see it happen….or, better still, do it themselves.

I’d be first in line and would take a run up.

Bottom Line

A bet is a bet and Willie has only his big mouth to blame for the situation he’s now in.

Clearly he will neither allow Branson to knee him where a lot of people would love to see him get kneed nor will he part with £1m either….but I’m not sure that really matters.

As much as I’d love to see Walsh doubled over in agony I’ll settle for him being shown up for what he almost certainly is – a loud, uncouth man who talks a good fight but, in the end, is nothing more than a blowhard who welches on his bets.

Featured Image via Wiki Commons Media

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