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Q&A with MAp CEO and incoming Sydney Airport head, Kerrie Mather

MAp CEO, Kerrie Mather
MAp CEO, Kerrie Mather

MAp yesterday announced the appointment of Kerrie Mather as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Sydney Airport, effective 1 July 2011, succeeding Russell Balding. Ms Mather took time to talk to CAPA about the appointment.

What is the background to your decision to take up the role as CEO of Sydney Airport?

I’ve been involved with Sydney over a long period of time and as a result I’ve gained a unique understanding of the opportunities and challenges, the relationships and team at Sydney Airport. For me, it was a natural evolution of that long-term involvement.

Sydney is 80% of MAp‘s portfolio now. We’ve had some changes at our European airports over the last year or so, in which we’ve strengthened our management team. We’ve got a great team in London managing those airports, so really the time was right.

I was approached by the Sydney [Airport] shareholders about the role. So it was just a question of looking at and working through how I would free up some of my management responsibilities.

Do you see any conflict in being the CEO of the operator as well as the owner of Sydney Airport?

I don’t. And certainly the other shareholders saw me early on as the leading candidate. From our perspective, the appointment needed contemplation in terms of ensuring I had capacity to take up the role alongside my commitment to the MAp team and to the other airports.

I had to delegate some of my responsibilities in relation to those. And the MAp Board wanted to ensure there would be an appropriate focus and commitment given to all of our airports.

Does the appointment signal that MAp has been dissatisfied with the performance of Sydney Airport, requiring more of a focus?

No, not at all. Sydney has been a stellar performer. Since we’ve acquired it we’ve delivered EBITDA growth of over 10.5% p/a and that compares favourably to any of our global peers.

Sydney has come through a very significant investment and development phase, so that leaves me free to focus on working with our airline partners to deliver services and products that further meet their needs. We want to work with our customers to help them grow their businesses. We want to continue to improve the efficiency and services at the airport and increase the choice for passengers across all the areas of the airport offering.

But I’m also going to be very focused on partnering with the tourism industry, namely Tourism NSW and Tourism Australia, to grow inbound tourism. We’ll be working together with our existing and potential new carriers to grow the number of destinations and services from Sydney, to reinforce its role as the premier national gateway. There is a completely aligned interest there in terms of economic growth and jobs.

There is a view that coordination and partnership within and between the NSW state-based government institutions and industry to drive air services growth has trailed the efforts of other states such as Victoria and Queensland. Is this a fair assessment?

I love Sydney Airport and I see great opportunities associated with the changes are going on in the aviation industry at the moment – the introduction of new large aircraft; the continued growth in low cost carriers, the liberalisation of air rights; the continued growth in alliances – all of those factors are opening up more seat capacity and creating a fantastic growth opportunity.

To take advantage of those opportunities we have to keep pace with the needs of our major airline partners whether it is the Qantas Group, Virgin Australia or our other customers, to deliver services they need and ensure that we are competitive and responsive.

Does this signal in any way a shift in MAp’s strategy to focus more on the Australian asset and to downplay the European focus?

I think that it reflects the strategy that we’ve articulated for quite some time – that our focus is on our three existing airports. They all are very attractive businesses with enormous potential and the focus is on delivering long-term value. So in summary, the focus is very much on those core airports of which Sydney is the largest.

Do you see MAp looking to grow that portfolio?

Consistent with what we’ve said for some time, the opportunities that are likely to come to the market are not the sort of opportunities that are likely to fit our criteria.

Background Information

Sydney Airport represents 80% of MAp’s earnings and 90% of MAp’s cash flow. Since 2002, Kerrie Mather has been a member of the board and Strategy Committee and through those roles has had a strong influence over the corporate strategy.

Ms Mather continues as CEO of MAp, supported by MAp’s teams in Sydney and London. Martyn Booth continues as head of MAp’s London team with a specific focus on delivering performance from MAp’s investments in Brussels and Copenhagen Airports.

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