John King, Baron King of Wartnaby

John King, Baron King of Wartnaby

John Leonard King, Baron King of Wartnaby (August 29,1917-July 12, 2005) was a businessman famous for leading British Airways from inefficient, nationalised company to one of the most successful airlines of recent times. This success was a flagship of Margaret Thatcher's privatisation programme.

King began his successful business career with a ball and roller bearing company which grew to become a major operation spanning several continents and which was sold for £10m in 1968. He became Chairman of Babcock International in 1972.

Dubbed "Mrs. Thatcher's favourite businessman" he was chosen to prepare the inefficient, loss making nationalised flag carrier for privatisation. King joined British Airways in 1981. Major changes at the airline included removing 22,000 staff members, hiring Colin Marshall as CEO in 1983, removing older aircraft from the fleet, purchasing more modern and efficient airliners, and axing unprofitable routes. Within two years King had replaced over half of the BA board with his own appointees. BA was privatised in 1987 and the initial share offering was 11 times oversubscribed. King was made a life peer as Baron King of Wartnaby, of Wartnaby in the County of Leicestershire in 1983.

Lord King of Wartnaby recognised the importance of Concorde to British Airways. In its early years of service with BA, Concorde lost the carrier money and attracted criticism from the press as a white elephant. One thing that everybody agreed was the charismatic value of the aircraft. BA used Concorde to win business customers, guaranteeing a certain number of Concorde upgrades in return for corporate accounts with the airline - a key factor in winning business from transatlantic competitors.

Around the same time British Airways was witnessing the emergence of a dangerous rival, Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic. Virgin, which began with one route and one Boeing 747 in 1984 was beginning to emerge as a serious threat on some of BA's most lucrative routes. Following a highly publicised mercy mission to Iraq to fly home hostages who had been held by Saddam Hussein in 1991, King is reported to have told Marshall and his PA Director David Burnside to "do something about Branson" ¹. This began the campaign of "dirty tricks" which ended in Branson suing King and British Airways for libel in 1992. King countersued Branson with the case scheduled for trial in 1993. However, it was settled out of court, with BA paying damages to Branson of £500,000 and a further £110,000 to his airline; further, BA paid legal fees of up to £3 million.

Lord King of Wartnaby stepped down from his role in 1993 but remained BA president emeritus. His interests included directorships at the "Daily Telegraph", "Spectator", headhunting company Norman Broadbent and engineering firm Short Brothers. ² However, it can be said that until the end he remained passionate about his "ugly duckling that became the world's favourite airline."


# Gregory, Martyn (2000) "Dirty Tricks, British Airways' secret war against Virgin Atlantic" (3rd Ed). Virgin Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7535-0458-8
# [,2763,401093,00.html Guardian Unlimited:Ups and downs of Iron Lady's favourites]
# [ "New York Times" report on death]

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