The loosing ways of Jat’s CEOs
Jat Airways has in the past ten years suffered from significant political interference and bad management which has seen it change six CEOs since 2001, all of which have been members of the ruling political parties. Recently, EX-YU aviation news has been inundated with e-mails from Jat’s employees writing about the astounding practices of their current management. The same case was observed last year, before the then CEO was sacked by the government due to mounting public pressure. EX-YU aviation takes a look back at CEOs past and present and asks whether this sort of unprofessionalism has bought the airline to its knees.
Vladimir Ognjenović, in office 2010 - present
As the nephew of one of the creator’s of Serbia’s largest governing party, Vladimir Ognjenović seemed like a natural choice for CEO of one of Serbia’s largest national companies. During his reign, Ognjenović has managed to increase the company’s losses and has recently ordered the suspension of several key routes. Among them are Stuttgart, Tel Aviv and Dubai, the latter which has bought the airline thousands of passengers and income thanks to a lucrative deal with Emirates. However, even before low cost airline Flydubai announced its service launch to the Serbian capital, Ognjenović ordered its cancellation for the upcoming winter season. In the end, he backed away from suspending flights to Tel Aviv and Stuttgart but is firm on discontinuing services to Dubai. It should be noted that Ognjenović was the vice CEO during the reign of Srdjan Radovanović (read below) and Commercial Director during Saša Vlaisavljević, both of which were declared incompetent by the government. Vladimir Ognjenović went as far as issuing a public letter of support for Srdjan Radovanović who he replaced.
Srdjan Radovanović, in office 2009 - 2010
Going down as one of Jat’s worst CEOs, being a member of Serbia’s largest governing party, Radovanović employed for his Financial Director an individual without a university degree and employed many others in marketing instead of cutting down on employee numbers. Having never worked at Jat (or any other airline), Radovanović, a lawyer by profession, lacked the basics of running a carrier, choosing instead to focus on free taxi services and travel insurance for passengers. Radovanović also planned for Jat tickets to be sold at post offices across the country. During his reign Jat’s technical and catering divisions went on strike, the former paralysing the airline for a week and the latter saw passengers receive only water on flights for three months. He also transferred powers from the Executive Board to the CEO allowing him, and those that preceded him, to determine route suspensions and launches and other operational decisions without consulting other relevant departments. Radovanović is now the advisor to Vladimir Ognjenović.
Saša Vlaisavljević, in office 2007 - 2009
Thanks to political connections, Vlaisavljević managed to rise from the position of Jat’s ground handler to CEO over night. During his time, the bulk of the management was replaced with those from the airline’s handling division at Belgrade Airport. Vlaisavljević heavily reduced the airline’s network of destinations, closed several key representative offices around Europe (where ticket sales rapidly decreased afterwards). He is also ‘credited’ with signing a damaging agreement with Montenegro Airlines from which Jat is still recovering. Vlaisavljević also made several announcements during his reign that Jat will go bankrupt which caused extensive damage to the company’s business and suggested the sale of lucrative slots at Heathrow Airport. After being declared incompetent to lead the airline, the government awarded him with a job as Belgrade’s City Manager but it lasted for three weeks before he got into a dispute with the city mayor. He now serves as one of the many Vice Presidents of Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce.
Nebojša Starčević, in office 2005 - 2007
Coming from a small party within the governing coalition, Starčević spoke out against competition and the granting of licenses to other airlines to operate to Serbia. A few years later when he was promoted as head of Serbia and Montenegro’s Civil Aviation Directorate he argued that Jat had no future and granted rights to a number of airlines to operate flights to the Serbian capital. Starčević had no experience in running an airline, working beforehand at a “Centrotekstil” shop in Moscow. He famously told the media that he never flies Jat because he wants to leave free seats for potential passengers. During his reign more than half of Jat’s fleet was grounded.
Aleksandar Miltuinović, in office 2004 - 2005
Milutinović’s short reign as CEO will be remembered as the closest Jat got to declaring bankruptcy. During the year, Jat technicians went on strike for over a month. The walkout was followed by cabin crew and pilots. The airline was forced to lease foreign aircraft and technicians from Tunisia. After his handling of the strikes, Milutinović was sacked as CEO but was soon rewarded by being posted as the representative of the airline in Athens.
Predrag Vujović, in office 2001 - 2004
Vujović’s reign was marred by mass layoffs within the airline which at the time counted over 2.000 employees. During his time the airline rebranded to Jat Airways and resumed many services. His downfall came after he got into a dispute with the airline’s pilot union. He later unsuccessfully tried to launch the low cost airline Centavia. Vujović now works privately but was a few years ago posted as advisor to the Minister of Infrastructure in the Serbian government.
A worrying trend is that all of Jat’s recent CEOs were later promoted to other positions despite all being sacked due to mismanagement. EX-YU aviation news has over the past two years reported on mismanagement in other national airlines in the former Yugoslavia as the trend is not unique to Jat.