KUALA LUMPUR – Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline was in dire straits for years, losing millions, faced restrictive work rules imposed by unions, attacked from below by Ryan Air – an Irish low-cost carrier – and from above by a slew of European airlines, exactly the situation Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is in now.
But only within a year after joining the airline in 2009, its chief executive officer (CEO), Christoph R. Mueller, turned around Aer Lingus by building the 78-year old airline’s sustainable profitability and cash generation on new markets and business models.
It’s on this score and more that Khazanah Nasional Bhd announced last Friday Mueller’s appointment as the CEO-designate of the new company (NewCo), Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB), describing him as “the best candidate to lead the turnaround of MAS and to groom a local successor”.
Member of Parliament for Setiawangsa, Datuk Ahmad Fauzi Zahari, who follows closely developments in the aviation industry, is all for Mueller’s landmark appointment as the first foreigner to head MAS.
“We now have found an aviation â€˜doctorâ€™ who has previously â€˜treatedâ€™ the same symptoms that our ailing national airline is facing. With a strong track record of transformation and turnaround in the aviation industry, the latest being the turnaround of Aer Lingus, his experience and expertise is tailor-made to fix MAS, why shouldnâ€™t we leverage on these to bring MAS back to a sustainable path?,” he told Bernama.
According to Ahmad Fauzi, the main focus here is to restructure MAS to make it a sustainable and profitable airline that Malaysians can once again be proud of.
“Some may say that we are denying local talents. The crux of the issue here is restructuring MAS, why are we then denying MAS this aviation expert who had proven track records?,” he said.
Amid such critical times facing MAS, he cited this analogy about why Malaysians should rally behind Khazanah’s appointment of the German whose record as “Mr Turnaround” in the industry is legendary.
“If my father or mother is gravely ill, I won’t ask if the doctor is Malay, Chinese or Indian or whatever. To me, under such circumstances, we want the best doctor who can save the patient. It’s the same with our national carrier, because we know Khazanah has a turnaround plan for MAS within three or four years, to me it is imperative that we need a CEO of the highest and best quality”.
Ahmad Fauzi said the nationality of the person who could turn out to be capable of saving MAS from bleeding further was immaterial and if circumstances forced such a necessity, then such a person should be given the opportunity to execute the task.
“For the record, Mueller will be the first CEO with aviation experience to run MAS. We have tried out a number of CEOs in the past. I am only saying at this point of time that we only need to find the best to save MAS. What’s the point of saying we do have internal expertise but MAS still fails?”
“Yes, it is still too early to tell whether he can put MAS on a profitable platform, but his proven track record provides assurance and confidence that he can achieve the tasks set by Khazanah to turn around MAS,” he said.
The MP pointed out that a key responsibility of Mueller as spelt by Khazanah was also to groom a local successor to run the NewCo, who will eventually lead the 14,000 local staff.
As to hiring foreigner as consultant, Fauzi said that not only will this be a duplication of the CEO function, but it will incur unnecessary cost.
Ahmad Fauzi agreed that as far as MAS was concerned, this would be the final or the mother of all restructurings for the airline, after having gone through a privatisation and rescue exercises in the past.
“The restructuring this time is the most comprehensive and drastic. Everyone has to bite the bullet but first and foremost while MAS is a national airline, it needs to operate strictly like a business entity,” he said.
As he put it: “Saving MAS is not part of the Bumiputera agenda. Nor is it about how important it is to have a local to lead MAS. It’s about ensuring the survival of a national icon. For MAS to be successful once again, it has to operate as a profit-oriented business, not as a Bumiputera or national agenda. Or else, what is the point of investing RM6 billion for MAS recovery?”
Khazanah, which owns almost 70 per cent of MAS in late August, unveiled a 12-point plan to turn around the national carrier which, among other things, entailed pumping in RM6 billion and axing 6,000 of its 20,000 employees.
Mueller’s contract with Aer Lingus ends on May 1, 2015 and Khazanah said last week that discussions were on-going for him to assume the post of CEO at date prior to this date but no earlier than March 1, 2015.
The NewCo will commence operations on July 1, 2015. – BERNAMA