Wanted : A superhero for MAS

02 Sep 2014 / 21:41 H.

    IT'S "do or do not". There is no "try".
    Right now, the Malaysia Airlines recovery plan sounds very much like a "try".
    The reason is simple: while major shareholder Khazanah Nasional Bhd, in its report titled "Rebuilding A National Icon", admits quite candidly that MAS's core problem is that passenger costs per available seat-kilometre have remained persistently higher than passenger revenue, a credible team and comprehensive plan to either increase revenue or lower costs is still absent.
    Its new operational model, Khazanah managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar has said, is something for the management and the board of Malaysia Airlines to figure out. They are to do this without breaking up the group, which also consists of an air cargo arm and a maintenance, repair and overhaul unit.
    This is the same board and management which presided over the RM307 million net loss the group registered for the second quarter ended June 30, 2014, although to be fair one analyst did opine that unit costs have improved somewhat through cost-cutting measures.
    Another number to consider is the RM8.4 billion in cumulative net losses from 2001 to June 2014. In other words, the management and the board have never really figured out how to manage the costs with the revenue.
    So will the new management and board be able to?
    Yes, touch wood, they will have a clean slate, more cost-competitive contracts and smaller salaries to pay by then but will passengers be willing to pay a premium to fly with Malaysia Airlines?
    Surely the idea of Malaysia Airlines being a low-cost carrier is unpalatable?
    How will it convince passengers to pay a premium after first offering "value service carrier" fares under the helm of Datuk Seri Idris Jala to lower than low-cost carrier fares at times now under Ahmad Jauhari Yahya?
    More importantly, will the proposed RM3 billion injection be enough to make MAS that airline which passengers, who are already spoilt for choice with the Emirates and Singapore Airlines of the world, pay a premium to fly Malaysia Airlines?
    That's where the new CEO comes in, because contrary to what some may believe, MAS's problems have very little to do with its unions or employees and very much to do with a lack of credible leadership.
    Considering the many tragedies, both financial and otherwise, it has gone through, no ordinary man or woman will do.
    We need a superhero.
    He or she will not only have to be a marketing genius but also a people person, because while MAS is set to lose 6,000 of its staff, the remaining 14,000 are still very much living, breathing people who will need to be convinced once again that "this time around it will be different".
    That this time around Malaysia Airlines will fly high again and, no, three years down the road there will not be another round of job cuts.
    Without the buy-in of the staff of Malaysia Airlines, who have been instrumental in keeping it alive all these years, there is no hope for the carrier.
    These criteria withstanding, the new CEO will also be juggling the uneviable task of running a business entity with restoring and preserving a "national icon", one which every political figure and tourism operator believes they should have a say in running.
    Petroliam Nasional Bhd president and CEO Tan Sri Shamsul Azhar Abbas' candidness on "juggling" issues at the national oil corporation more than two months ago, and the ensuing furor against him, attests to this.
    And while Khazanah is not saying much on its quest for this "superhero", we only know that he or she can either be a local or a foreigner, we can only hope that this time around Malaysia Airlines will finally have a leader worthy of it.
    Because while we all acknowledge its status as a national icon, it's time we started treating it like one.


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