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MAS needs more than a new chief

Publication Date : 22-08-2014


Thus far, three names have been bandied about as potential head honchos of ailing Malaysia Airlines (MAS).

They are Idris Jala, the former MAS managing director and current minister in the prime minister’s department; Jamaludin Ibrahim, who is Axiata Group Bhd president and group chief executive officer (CEO); and Shazalli Ramly, the CEO of Celcom Axiata Bhd.

However, Idris was quick to pour cold water on the suggestion, tweeting early yesterday morning that he was not heading to MAS and that he would continue in his present role.

He was being speculated to be chairman of the new MAS.

Jamaludin has remained silent, but those who know him feel he may just be the right man for the job, as his magic has set Axiata shining among the government-linked companies.

Shazalli’s name had been bandied about even before current CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya was appointed in 2011.

For the ailing MAS, a branding guru to rebrand its image after two big back-to-back tragedies in four months, which saw 537 lives being lost, is needed.

While Shazalli and Jamaludin have the corporate leadership qualities and skills, are they keen on the daunting task, as the problems are deep-rooted?

MAS’ major shareholder, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, after being told by the government in February to look into saving MAS, announced on Aug 8 that it would take MAS private by offering 27 sen a share or 1.38 billion ringgit (US$436.4 million) in total.

It will delist MAS and undertake a massive overhaul. This is despite the airline’s several attempts in the past and having changed CEOs five times over the past decade.

The government investment agency is expected to announce its grand plan on MAS sometime next week, and as the day draws nearer, there will be more names springing up because the search is for someone to lead a task force to undertake the restructuring while MAS continues to fly.

All this drumming up of names also came about because the current CEO’s term ends on Sept 19 and it is not clear whether he has gotten an extension.

Some reports are suggesting that the entire management team will be replaced.

But will this leadership change fix all of MAS’ problems?

Unlikely, unless the person is given full authority to overhaul the airline and has the liberty to cut routes, jobs and lucrative contracts to suppliers.

Then, there is also the talk of the possibility of a new shareholder taking some stake in MAS. That party may not emerge so soon, but will surely stake a claim on how the airline should be run and managed.

Although it is still early days and Khazanah, with the help of its consultants, is still hammering out a plan, it has to be mindful that the plan needs to be based on a sustainable model.

It is also about time Khazanah warms up to the idea of having talent from within the industry as well as foreign talent to steer the airline.

This is because for the most part of the decade, Khazanah has brought in people from diverse fields to head MAS, with some having to burn the midnight oil to learn up the airline industry, which is a unique industry with unique problems.


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