Oman Air embarked on a high-profile mission to recruit its latest chief executive officer last summer, following an announcement that British expatriate Peter Hill would retire from the position after three-and-a-half years with the national carrier. Although his departure was long-expected in the industry, finding a suitable replacement – with the relevant experience, qualifications and mindset – was such a laborious task that Oman Air discarded its initial shortlist of candidates and postponed Hill’s retirement by six months to find the ideal successor. And while the last-minute delay was placed under immense media scrutiny, it allowed a seasoned airline veteran from Oman’s neighbouring country, the United Arab Emirates, to enter the mix.
Approaching his fourth year as Etihad Airways chief strategy and planning officer at the time, Wayne Pearce had developed a solid track-record at the Abu Dhabi-based carrier, where he overlooked the multi-billion dollar purchase of nearly 140 Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Such credentials were an attractive draw for Oman Air’s board of directors and the recruitment process was immediately fast-tracked, with chairman HE Darwish Bin Ismail Bin Ali Al Balushi stating he was “extremely pleased” to welcome the Australian native aboard. “We are confident that his experience and expertise will enable Oman Air to reach even greater heights of excellence,” he told the media while revealing the appointment in January 2012.
At face value, Al Balushi’s confidence seems well-placed. After graduating from Sydney’s Macquarie University in the 1970s, Pearce started his career with national airline Qantas, where he remained for over two-and-a-half decades in a variety of management roles, working in countries such as Australia, Thailand and the United Kingdom. In 1998, he was recruited as group managing director of Gold Medal Travel, one of the UK’s leading independent travel companies, followed by a move to Etihad Airways in 2007.
“My experience to date has been focused on the management of large-scale businesses. For instance, Gold Medal Travel had a turnover of more than one billion dollars and developed into the biggest supplier of leisure business to the GCC region,” Pearce explains to Aviation Business in his first official interview as Oman Air CEO. “Then, with Etihad Airways, I was heavily involved in significant fleet acquisitions and network enhancements, while overlooking functional areas such as the cargo and holiday divisions. So my past responsibilities have been varied and that makes me well-equipped for this latest role with Oman Air. It is early days, as I’ve only been here five weeks, but the experience so far has been fantastic.”