MAS needs a CEO/MD with the guts to set things right

“IF you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

That is Nelson Mandela's quote and it aptly describes Tan Sri Tony Fernandes who was once a critic of Malaysia Airlines (MAS). Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin Meranun bought a 20.5% stake in MAS and both of them have now become directors of the national carrier.

For nearly a decade, he has been lambasting MAS for his airline's - AirAsia - failure to get the right routes among many other issues. Things had not been going well at MAS and it needed to be salvaged.

Tuesday marked an important milestone for both the airlines as the demarcation lines were drawn very clearly.

And for the umpteenth time MAS will undergo a restructuring, turnaround or transformation to get it back on course.

The ultimatum is for MAS to regain its lost glory and that means being only a premium full-service airline.

That is going to be tough when its competitors are already so far ahead.

Execution will be key to making that dream of the airline's shareholders come true.

Fernandes and Kamarudin are the best man for the job, but they will not dabble in the the day-to-day operation of the airline.

So the search for CEO/MD is on.

The person should possess Fernandes' magic touch, Kamarudin's finance acumen and the wisdom of MAS chairman Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof.

Fernandes said he preferred someone who was “numbers-driven like AirAsia X's CEO Azran Osman-Rani, someone with a clear focus, possibly not someone from the airline industry, humble yet analytical, understands the basics of marketing and has a strong head for communications.”

Those who had endured the pain of holding MAS shares for nearly a decade now have their own wish list too. MAS shares, which are at a nine-year low, closed at RM1.80 yesterday.

The person should be ambitious, not just for himself but the airline, someone who sees the big picture, a leader with guts to hire and fire, cut and stop the bleeding, brave enough to end procurement contracts that are at expense of the airline. The candidate should not be distracted just because other airlines dumped fares. He or she has to rebuild the airline, staff morale, shareholder value but the biggest challenge is handling the perception issue. That is why the person needs to be the best communicator and best salesperson. The person has to be mindful of cultural issues and who his or her masters are the passengers or the bosses?

And don't fumble on the front-end passenger seats issue again as the travellers know whether the seats they have bought are really flat for their comfort or otherwise. Get it right once and for all if MAS aspirations are to be a premier airline like Singapore Airlines and Emirates.

The person should eat, breath, think of yields, that's the hallmark to profitability, as without that no number of passengers, connectivity, frequency and comfort can bring in the profits that the airline desperately needs. We are talking about a premium brandnot a mixed bag of premium-to-mid and low-cost.

Throw the dice, take your pick.

An executor who can perform his job with gusto is what MAS needs. If those in power really want the problem at MAS to be resolved once and for all, they should warm up to the idea of even hiring a foreigner, not necessarily a mat salleh. But certainly not someone who is into a quick fix and short-term gains.

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