MAS CEO leaving for love of Ireland, not due to pressure from owners

  • Corporate News
  • Thursday, 19 Oct 2017

Malaysia Airline CEO Peter Bellew at the press conference yesterday on MAS fleet strategy

PETALING JAYA: Peter Bellew, the Irish chief executive officer of Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAS), has denied that he is leaving the airline because of too much interference from Khazanah Nasional Bhd and the Government.

He said he is leaving due to a call to serve Ireland’s best known airline, Ryanair.

“So why am I leaving ... Negaraku. Love for country is pulling me back to Ireland.

“I got a call from Ryanair late evening two weeks ago to be the COO. It is Ireland’s greatest company. They need my help and there is a big challenge. It is a form of national service.

“When I was asked on 27th Sept would I go to Ryanair I said no. But a week later the call came and in life, we can really never say never.

“I am looking forward to being close again to my family and friends 14 hours away in Ireland,’’ Bellew said in his personal response to media queries yesterday.

Bellew also pointed out that Khazanah was supportive of him.

“(Khazanah) has been incredibly supportive to me personally and corporately. I tried to be transparent on a daily basis, included them in most significant meetings and dragged their staff to work for us! It has worked well.

“There has been no interference. Although possibly I drove Khazanah mad with my constant questions and wish for consensus.

“People always ask me how do I cope with the government interference. There has been none for me. Zero interference,’’ he added.

Khazanah, in a separate statement, denied that it had meddled with the running of the airline.

“We have worked closely together to deliver the progress of the ongoing restructuring to date,’’ it pointed out.

Bellew shocked MAS’ major shareholder Khazanah with his abrupt departure from MAS to rejoin Ryanair.

The MAS board was also disappointed as it only found out about it from the London Stock Exchange. In a statement, MAS said its board will convene a meeting soon to discuss his departure and a replacement.

But its priority and commitment remains with customers and it will ensure its operations and services continue as normal.

Bellew is the second foreign CEO hired after a global search by Khazanah. His predecessor Christoph Mueller left MAS last year.

Both Mueller and Bellew left the local airliner ahead of their contract period.

On Sept 27 in a press conference, Bellew had said that he was happy to lead MAS and was not planning on “going anywhere’’ and would not be joining Ryanair.

Meanwhile, a source who declined to be named said: “At that point (Sept 27) he was sure of staying at MAS.

“But at the end of the first week of October, he was offered to join Ryanair.

“About 10 days ago, he did inform the major shareholder of his intention to leave MAS,’’ added the source.

According to Bellew, MAS is “special.’’

“Not just an airline but one of the earliest symbols of the vibrancy of this amazing country. People who have never flown in their life love it.

“Most of the country hopes it will thrive and be the pride of the nation again. It is a tough job to fix it,’’ he said.

He pointed out that: “Success is just within our grasp. Just another 4%-5% in revenue monthly and it should move to profits. Not always easy to gain but in the second quarter revenue increased 7%. The product is improving visibly: new widebody planes, new lounges, new loyalty programme, new website and better operations in Kuala Lumpur. Still some work needed on the food! Lots done – lots more to do,’’ Bellew said.

“Please don’t change the brand! Much work has been done globally through the media and travel agents to rebuild our heritage. People love what Malaysia Airlines stands for. The brand is now revived from China to the UK and down to Australia. That work must continue and will yield the 5% revenue growth,’’ Bellew added.

An analyst described the drama unfolding at MAS as “rather than a turnaround, it is turning around in circles.’’

Brendan Sobie, an analyst with Capa Centre for Aviation said: “I was a bit surprised when I heard the news on Tuesday night. “However, keep in mind that Bellew (and Mueller before Bellew) were never intended as permanent CEOs. While the initial hope was that each would be in place for three years, the idea has always been to have a local CEO again after the transformation was completed.

“Each had their own valid reasons for leaving earlier than initially intended that are personal rather than a reflection on MAS or Malaysia.

“Speculation that things are going badly or the ship is sinking is unfounded.

“Bellew was presented with a great opportunity to return to Ireland and help Ryanair. While he had initially intended to stay with MAS for three years and there is understandably some disappointment in Malaysia that he is leaving early, it is the right decision for him and his family,’’ added Sobie. Bellew was hired by Mueller as MAS chief operating officer in 2015.

When Mueller left, Bellew was the ideal candidate to take over as MAS needed then a man who could sell seats, and he did just that. He was appointed CEO in July 2016. According to analysts, several names have been bandied around, including that of its chief financial officer Omar Siddiq Amin Noer Rashid and MRT Corp CEO Datuk Shahril Mokhtar.

This is the second time Shahril has been tipped for the post, the first was before Mueller was hired. Shahril, when contacted by StarBiz, said:

“I am honoured that my name is being mentioned again for the top post at MAS. I have

not been approached on this.

“I am extremely contented with the challenges at MRT Corp. Nevertheless, I would not mind another stint of national service if my services are required. Eventually, it is up to the Government to decide.’’

He was indirectly involved with MAS when he was general manager from 2002 to 2006 at Penerbangan Malaysia Bhd, the company that leased aircraft to MAS.


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