Industry lauds Khazanah’s swift response to ensure airline continues its transformation programme
THE pace to appoint new group CEO at Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAS) by its board and major shareholder Khazanah Nasional Bhd is admirable.
The speed to do so is understandable given what was at stake.
This is the only airline in the world which has had four CEOs in three years. Industry experts say that the repeated change in leadership at MAS does not bode well for the national carrier.
Captain Izham Ismail has been appointed the executive director and new group chief executive officer designate of MAS and its parent, Malaysia Aviation Group Bhd (MAG) with immediate effect. He will become group CEO on Dec 1, according to a statement issued by MAS yesterday.
He succeeds the outgoing group CEO Peter Bellew, who is now on “garden leave.’’
The appointment of an in-house talent as CEO comes after over a decade, as the last homegrown talent helming the top post was Datuk Ahmad Fuad Dahlan who served as CEO of the airline from April 2004 to August 2005.
“It is the right move to appoint someone from within the organisation rather than try to bring in an outsider at this important juncture. He has been through the restructuring process and should be capable of powering on with the transformation without any interruption.
“It is great that Khazanah has responded swiftly and is making sure the airline continues on the same path,’’ says Capa Centre for Aviation analyst Brendan Sobie.
The board met yesterday morning and decided on Izham and they also got the nod from the powers that be for Izham’s appointment.
MAS chief financial officer Omar Siddiq Amin Noer Rashid was tipped as the potential candidate but those in the know claim he was not keen on the job.
Izham is the current chief operating officer who comes with 38 years of experience in the aviation industry. He started with MAS as a pilot and rose the ranks to be director of operations, later CEO of MAS Wings and his last appointment November last year was COO of the airline.
It is no surprise that a local candidate has been chosen this time around after two foreign CEOs left prematurely. The appointment is also in line with the 12-point MAS Recovery Plan (MRP) that local talents take over the leadership of MAS eventually.
“Bellew’s departure, if anything, has merely accelerated our plans to localise the leadership of MAG,’’ MAS chairman Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof said in an e-mail to the entire MAS workforce yesterday evening.
Izham is elated by the appointment and in his statement, he says “I am humbled and at the same time, ready for the challenge. We are on track towards a full and complete transformation as outlined in the MRP, and I am looking forward to working with my MH colleagues to make this airline the pride of the nation again.”
Izham would want MAS to scale new heights after the work put in by Bellew.
But his biggest challenge would be to make sure he is able to sell seats to fill up the planes and focus on turning the airline towards profitability again.
MAS business plans states that it will be profitable by second half of next year and a listing is planned the following year.
All eyes will be on Izham as to how he will pilot MAS, which is no easy task given the challenges in the marketplace, and whether he can garner enough support from within.
Several previous CEOs could not get full support from staff to push MAS forward.
Md Nor in his e-mail to staff says: “It is critical now more than ever that you all continue to focus and deliver what is required of each of you. The nation is counting on us all to make this airline the pride of the nation once again. We should not allow anything to derail us from achieving this.’’
He urged the staff to rally support for the new group CEO and that MAS flights must continue to take off and land on time, and continue to provide sincere and genuine Malaysian Hospitality across every customer touch points.
“We have weathered many storms together as a family and we will come back stronger and better than ever,’’ Md Nor says.
To ensure a smooth transition, a board executive committee will be in place for up to six months. It will be led by Md Nor and directors, Tan Sri Krishnan Tan, Tan Sri Zamzamzairani Isa and Sheranjiv Sammanthan.
Bellew is the second foreign CEO to quit prematurely after being given a three-year contract to pilot the airline into profitability.
After the 2014 twin air disasters, MAS parent Khazanah scouted for a foreign CEO and found Christoph Mueller to be MAS CEO. After a year, Mueller quit, citing personal problems as the reasons to leave. He left two years ahead of his ontract and later joined Emirates.
Bellew was then the natural candidate, given his expertise and experience at Ryanair. At that point in time, MAS needed a true blue salesman to manage the airline as it needed to change the perception of the airline. Bellew was the perfect choice.
Bellew was hired by Mueller in 2015 and became CEO in July 2016.
“Whatever said, Bellew was good for MAS when it needed to regain its branding globally. That has been achieved to some extent. The China traffic, a market MAS lost at the twin air disasters in 2014 is back and that is progress,’’ an industry expert adds.
Sobie says that “MAS has made significant headway in its attempted turnaround. Bellew and Mueller (the CEO before Bellew) had different styles and different solutions for many areas but they both put the airline on the right track. Bellew has accomplished a lot over the last 15 months and MAS is in a much better position than when he joined two years ago or when he was promoted last year.’’
Even though many only read about Bellew’s departure in the newpapers, he did submit his resignation to those in power at MAS nearly two weeks ago. Why they did not announce his resignation earlier was because they were trying to convince him to stay on and complete his term. But Bellew had an irresistible offer to rejoin Ryanair and return to Ireland. He believes it is his calling for national service.
Even Bellew took to Instagram yesterday to congratulate Izham.
“My friend Izham is new group GEO of MAS. A proud dad and grand dad. Aviation professional. Technical geek. Outstanding pilot. But most important – a wonderful man. He will be a great leader of this special airline. I am very proud of you Izham. I’ll pray for your success. I hope you still have me on speed dial. God Bless You,’’ Bellew wrote.
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