Olivier Bijaoui, president and CEO of Worldwide Flight Services (WFS), left the company yesterday in what the market will view as a surprisingly sudden departure.

COO Barry Nassberg (pictured below) will take over on an interim basis, while a new CEO is sought.

Mr Bijaoui (above) had appeared excited at the prospect of growing the company after Platinum Equity completed its acquisition of WFS in October last year. Mr Bijaoui was believed to have equity in WFS, although it is unclear whether he still owns it. But, as one source noted: “he doesn’t need to work”.

WFS then acquired 51% of Fraport Cargo Services, and this year it acquired Consolidated Aviation Services (CAS), the largest handling company in North America.

WFS said when the Platinum deal was announced, that it planned to double in size over the next two years in an acquisition phase, and Mr Bijaoui said the investment represented “freedom”. He also defended the investment by a private equity company saying: “It means the management team sticks together. If you are bought by a company in the industry, you may see a change in management. But if you are bought by PE, they look to you to lead the way and make it more profitable.”

Mr Bijaoui’s sudden departure, just a year or so into the two-year plan and with considerable integration underway, raises question marks over his relationship with Platinum, and air freight executives are currently speculating that he was ‘pushed’.

“There is always good and bad in any relations [between management and investors],” said one source. “But Olivier came to an amicable solution with Platinum and it is a very amicable split. He’s happy, WFS is happy.”

Barry Nassberg

In a brief release issued by WFS, there was little detail on Mr Bijaoui. But Mr Nassberg (pictured) said that the future for WFS looked good.

“WFS is a strong and growing company with dedicated employees throughout the organisation and strong leaders at every level. Our recent acquisition of CAS has all the potential we expected and the integration of our companies is proceeding ahead of schedule. We also have several new business wins coming on line and a robust pipeline of additional opportunities.”

Bastian Lueken, head of the European investment team at Platinum Equity said WFS’s plan was well on track.

“Teams throughout the company are performing at a high level with an intense focus on serving customers. We are pleased with the direction the company is headed and are fully committed to supporting its long-term strategic plan.”

Mr Lueken said he expected a seamless transition and that a thorough global search for a new CEO would identify the right candidate “to lead the combined organisation into the future”.

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