Jürgen Weber

Chairman of the supervisory board, Deutsche Lufthansa

Nationality: German.

Born: October 17, 1941.

Education: Stuttgart Technical University, BS, 1965; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MBA, 1980.

Career: Lufthansa, Hamburg, 1967–1974, engineering division; 1974–1978, line–maintenance director; 1978–1987, chief engineer in charge of aircraft maintenance; 1987–1989, chief operating officer, technical services; 1989–1990, deputy member, executive board; 1990, chief executive, technical services, and full executive board member; 1990–1991, deputy chairman, executive board; 1991–2003, chairman, executive board, and chief executive officer; 2003–, chairman, supervisory board.

Awards: Bambi Award, Burda media group, 1994; Aerospace Laureate for 1997, US Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine; fellow, Royal Aeronautical Society, London, 1997; honorary doctorate of engineering, Aerospace Faculty, Stuttgart University, 1998; named Manager of the Year, manager-magazin , 1999; Champion of Liberty Award, Anti-Defamation League, 1999; Aerospace Laureate for 2000, US Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine; named Germany's Best Manager, Wirtschaftswoche magazine, 2002; Airline Business Award, Airline Business magazine, 2003; L. Welch Progue Award, US Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, 2003.

Address: Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Von-Gablenz-Strasse 2-6, Cologne, 50679, Germany; http://konzern.lufthansa.com/en/index.html.

■ Jürgen Weber, known in business circles for leading the German airline Lufthansa in an unprecedented turnaround, spent his entire career with the company. By 2004 Lufthansa was a global aviation group with more than 350 subsidiaries and associated companies operating in the air-transportation, maintenance, and catering industries as well as information-technology industries in ground-handling and tourist markets.

Jürgen Weber. AP/Wide World Photos.
Jürgen Weber.
AP/Wide World Photos

During his 12 years as chairman and CEO, Weber brought Lufthansa from an almost insolvent, state-run airline operating at monthly losses as great as DM 230 million to the privately owned, world aviation leader it became. Renowned for always exercising foresight, Weber initiated many projects during his tenure as chairman and CEO that would only come to full fruition well after his retirement. Upon his retirement, an extensive tribute was posted on Lufthansa's Web site outlining and expressing thanks for "his outstanding achievements." Weber remained with the corporation as chairman of the group's supervisory board.


When Weber became chairman and CEO of Lufthansa in 1991, the airline—which had come to be known as "the patient"—was suffering huge losses in a declining world economy and backlash from the war in the Persian Gulf. Weber immediately swung into action. He grounded 23 aircraft, cut staff by one thousand, slashed 3.5 percent from the expense budget, and set out to boost sales and earnings. To kick-start the company's revival, in 1993 he launched "Programme 93," an in-house structural plan that cut six thousand more jobs, primarily at the administrative level, and called for cutbacks in materials costs. The company's earnings were boosted by DM 700 million in 1993 alone.

The 1990s saw swift and significant changes in the airline industry worldwide and, thanks to Weber's foresight and penchant for taking swift but well-thought-out action, Lufthansa went from being simply a local airline into what the company called on its Web site a "high-performance network of cooperating subsidiaries." In 1993 rapid changes were occurring in the world economy, changes that eventually became known as globalization. Some of those changes were affecting the aviation industry in the form of deregulation. Weber decided that the only way his company could compete in the long term was to expand globally, and he believed the best way to do that was to form strong strategic alliances with airlines from other countries. He set about negotiating a cooperation agreement with United Airlines, the U.S. company that in 1992 had signed a similar agreement with Air Canada. United and Lufthansa signed the agreement despite strong opposition from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

This was just Weber's first step in implementing his vision to create a global alliance of airlines, a vision that came to fruition on May 14, 1997, when the CEOs of Lufthansa, United Airlines, SAS, Thai Airways, and Air Canada signed an agreement that launched the Star Alliance. Then, in late 1998, Weber announced that Lufthansa would metamorphose from a traditional airline into an aviation group with the goal of becoming a world leader in air-traffic services. The group created seven business segments: passenger business, logistics, leisure travel, machine-repair operations, catering, ground services, and information technology.


In 1999 American Airlines attempted to purchase Air Canada, and again Weber swung swiftly into action with a brand-new policy. World Airline News reported him as commenting at Lufthansa's third-quarter-results meeting in Frankfurt: "The incident has promoted us [Star Alliance members] to strengthen cooperation by binding agreements to thwart takeover attempts like that against Air Canada…. That's why we are willing to undertake the financial commitments in specific situations, leaving our determination in no doubt." As evidence of the strength of the alliance, Weber also noted in his address that Austrian Airlines and British Midland would soon join. "We are delighted at the coming membership, since both were wooed by competitors and both opted for the Star Alliance only after scrutinizing all the alternatives," he said.

The alliance, the strongest in the entire airline industry, eventually offered customers seamless global travel: By the early 21st century, 16 airlines were flying under the Star Alliance banner to 130 countries and more than 800 destinations. "Weber's early vision of the competition that would thrive between airline alliances of the future has proved correct," read the tribute on Lufthansa's Web site. "Today strong alliance systems with their hubs and networks dominate the playing field in the international air travel sector."


Weber faced many tough situations during his tenure with Lufthansa. Yet regardless of the situation, he kept a positive outlook and saw opportunities in situations that others saw simply as crises. In 1999 the airline reported a 17 percent rise in sales along with financial gains from its operations in Asia when many other airlines in that region were reporting losses. "We remained loyal to our markets there," Weber was reported as saying. "The motion of crisis in Asia is synonymous with opportunity. We have seized that opportunity ( World Airline News ).

By the early 2000s, when other European airlines were experiencing huge losses, Weber's leadership not only avoided similar losses but saw Lufthansa through four consecutive years of operating performances that were better than any other European airline. In 2000 the company posted a 9 percent increase in profits—to $620 million—and despite a 65 percent increase in fuel costs, posted a 44 percent operating-profit increase that amounted to $940 million.

In 2001 Lufthansa pilots called a strike. A BusinessWeek Online reporter called the action a "shocking development" because the airline had a long history of avoiding worker unrest. The strike lasted two-and-one-half days and cost the company more than $50 million before both sides agreed to arbitration on May 22. "Weber will have to work hard to recover from that blow to maintain Lufthansa's recent sterling record," wrote the reporter. However, Weber had already planned the implementation of a new strategy that he named "D-check" after the most intensive, top-to-bottom overhaul given to aircraft. The Busines Week Online reporter, referring to the CEO's legacy of "tough-love restructuring," commented: "Weber, an engineer with a blunt approach, is about to give all of Lufthansa a D-check." Under this initiative, Weber planned to increase cost savings by $1 billion every year beginning in 2003. "There's a very thin line between dazzling success and failure in the airline business," the reporter quoted Weber as commenting, and noted that workers—and pilots in particular—struck because they were concerned that D-check would implement cost-cutting at their expense.

D-check was implemented, however, and proved to be an effective tool for implementing fast and flexible responses, especially in times of crisis. It was also used effectively to meticulously and intensely scrutinize and overhaul the entire corporation in the interest of efficiency and profitability. "Success has justified the programme's introduction," read a statement in Lufthansa's tribute. D-check not only allowed the corporation to show far better results than others in the industry in 2002 but also to avoid an operating loss in 2001, one of the most disastrous years in airline-industry history. On September 11 of that year terrorists hijacked four U.S. airliners full of passengers, flew two planes into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and one crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. There was also a significant weakening of the world economy as the so-called "technology bubble" burst. Subsequently, the entire airline industry was plunged into its worst-ever crisis. But Weber, with his past crisis experience, led his management team and the Lufthansa group through the storm to show an operating profit of EUR 28 million, even though the company experienced an overall loss. Lufthansa's site tribute read: "Jürgen Weber has thrift in his blood. Stringent and far-sighted cost management—true to the maxim of providing in good times for the bad—runs like a red thread through his era as Chairman and CEO of Lufthansa."


At a December 2002 meeting of the Lufthansa supervisory board, the announcement was made that Wolfgang Mayrhuber would become chairman and CEO following Weber's retirement, which would become effective at the June 18, 2003, annual general meeting. Excerpts from Weber's final annual report, presented at the meeting, were published on Lufthansa's Web-site tribute to its retiring CEO. Never afraid to look reality directly in the face, Weber wrote: "Despite the industry crisis, we have maintained supply, quality and service on a high level. A crisis is hardly the time for highfalutin visions. It is the time for down-to-earth action."

Among the many down-to-earth actions initiated by Weber in the months and years before his retirement was the operational start-up of the first Lufthansa terminal at Munich airport; installation of broadband Internet access on all long-haul aircraft beginning mid-2004; and the favorable financial negotiation in December 2001 of fifteen Airbus A380s, the world's largest aircraft, which were scheduled to go into service in 2007. Weber also put into place procedures to develop corporate structures to ensure strong management continuity after his retirement. "Respected analysts and the international press all concur that Lufthansa's house is in order and well-equipped with financial resources," read the tribute on Lufthansa's Web site.


Weber was not one to take all the credit for himself, however. When accepting awards he preferred having other Lufthansa employees, and often entire aircraft crews, beside him at the podium. He would then symbolically hand the award to the staff. "It's like in sport," he was quoted in the Web-site tribute. "The team captain can only be as good as his team." In his final annual report he wrote a tribute to the entire Lufthansa staff: "Putting things right, acknowledging and rectifying wrong decisions is a strength that has repeatedly helped us over the past twelve years. By practising restraint at the right time, we managed to safeguard the success of the Group in 2002. That success manifests the competence, realism and entrepreneurial mindset of Lufthansa staff."

And Weber had a high sense of responsibility to the planet. Part of the company's mission statement read: "Business success does not rule out a corporate policy that subscribes to sustainability and environmental protection. We are committed to maintaining a balance between them. Protecting the environment is therefore a top-priority corporate goal, which we support with total conviction" ("Responsibility for the Environment," Lufthansa.com ). Weber held firmly to that conviction, and Lufthansa expanded its environmental policies and became firmly situated in the indexes for stock-market investors interested in adding environmentally friendly corporations to their portfolios. In fact, protecting the endangered crane—called the "herald of joy," a depiction of which is the symbol on the tail of Lufthansa's aircraft—was a particular passion for Weber: Lufthansa joined the World Wildlife Fund Germany and the German nature conservation society NABU as a major supporter of the national crane-protection working group.


Weber was a member of the supervisory boards for Allianz-Lebensversicherungs, Deutsche Bank, Loyalty Partner, Bayer, and Thomas Cook. Committee memberships included the Association of European Airlines and the International Air Transport Association, of which he sat on the strategy committee of the board of governors. In 2003 Germany's federal minister of economics and labor, Wolfgang Clement, announced a comprehensive set of reforms called "Agenda 2010" and the formation of the "Invest in Germany" agency, the task of which was to promote Germany as a business location. Three renowned business personalities were named as foreign-investment commissioners, and Weber was one of them. Clement wrote in Invest in Germany Newsletter : "With our foreign investment commissioners on the job, we know that Germany's image is in good hands." Then, in early 2004, Weber was appointed Germany's federal commissioner for foreign investment in charge of North America. When asked in an interview for This Week in Germany what advice he could give Chancellor Schroeder to help the government turn around Germany's economy, Weber replied: "I think there's no difference between turning around a company and turning around a state…. We're giving him advice—but not only advice. Sometimes we make requests. In particular, we want the good reform package that is now underway to be moved along a little bit faster."

See also entry on Deutsche Lufthansa Aktiengesellschaft in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

"Business & Technology: Roundtable Highlights Investment Opportunities in Germany," This Week in Germany , http://www.germany-info.org/relaunch/info/publications/week/2004/040227/e-list.html .

Clement, Wolfgang, "Editorial," Invest in Germany Newsletter , http://www.invest-in-germany.de/en/news/newsletter/print.php?cat=10676070091041601863 .

"Jürgen Weber, A Life for Lufthansa," .

"Lufthansa's Weber Sends a Message: Don't Mess with Star Alliance," World Airline News , http://articles.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0ZCK/is_46_9/ai_57772909 .

"Responsibility for the Environment," Lufthansa.com , .

"The Stars of Europe—Survivors," BusinessWeek Online , http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/01_24/b3736664.htm .

—Marie Thompson

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: