British Airways and Iberia boss Willie Walsh said he would be happy to wager Sir Richard Branson a “knee in the groin” that Virgin Atlantic won’t exist in its current form in five years’ time.The aviation boss, who is chief executive of International Airlines Group (IAG), was responding to a challenge by Sir Richard that he would pay BA staff £1m if the Virgin Atlantic brand name has disappeared in five years’ time .
A public spat broke out between the two rivals after Mr Walsh suggested earlier this week that the Virgin Atlantic brand would be consigned to the history books if US giant Delta buys a 49pc stake in the carrier set up by Sir Richard in 1984.
The furious Virgin chief responded by challenging Mr Walsh to a £1m wager.
Speaking in Seoul, where BA has launched its latest route, Mr Walsh said he did not respect the British entrepreneur “in the way I respect other people in the industry”.
He suggested a £1m wager would not be fair as Sir Richard is a “billionaire banker”.
“I don’t think a million pounds would hurt him, I don’t have a million pounds so maybe a bet that would be as painful to him as it might be to me – so maybe something like a knee in the groin,” Mr Walsh said.
The IAG chief said he didn’t know Sir Richard very well but “on the limited occasions” he had met him he hasn’t seen anything that would “make me want to meet him again”.
“I just don’t see that the guy has anything that stands out in terms of what he has achieved in the industry,” Mr Walsh said. “I’ve said it publicly, I don’t respect him in the way I respect other people in the industry and that’s a personal view.”
Mr Walsh did, however, praise Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic’s outgoing chief executive.
Delta is in talks with Singapore Airlines about buying its 49pc stake in Virgin. Negotiations could come to a head as early as this week although there is no certainty a deal will come off.
Sir Richard said in a blog yesterday: “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?”