Aer Lingus’ outgoing chief tipped to lead MAS

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KUALA LUMPUR: Outgoing Aer Lingus chief executive officer (CEO) Christoph Muller (pic) is tipped to lead loss-making Malaysian Airlines System Bhd (MAS) after its latest restructuring, according to sources.

The Irish airline announced in July that the German aviation veteran would step down as CEO and director effective May 2015. But it did not say where he would go next. Both Aer Lingus and MAS are part of the oneworld alliance.

“Mr Muller is the one for the job,” a source told The Malaysian Insider.

MAS’ main shareholder Khazanah Nasional Bhd had sought a few candidates and settled on Muller a few months ago, but could not disclose as he was not available immediately.

Mueller joined Aer Lingus as CEO in September 2009 and turned around the airline. Aer Lingus chairman Colm Barrington commended Mueller for his services at the airline when announcing his departure in July.

“Under Christoph’s strategic leadership, Aer Lingus has been transformed into a strong, consistently profitable airline with a clear strategic direction, a resilient business model as a value carrier and an improved cost base,” he was quoted as saying by the Irish Independent daily.

Muller had a stint as executive aviation director of TUI Travel plc, a FTSE 100 company, and served as DHL Worldwide chief financial officer from 2002 to 2004.

He has extensive experience in the aviation industry, having held a senior position in Daimler Benz Aerospace, and was executive vice president of Lufthansa AG and CEO of the Sabena Group.

He has an MBA from the University of Cologne and subsequently completed an advanced management programme in Harvard Business School.

Khazanah Nasional Bhd said at this point in time, no one has been appointed as the new CEO of MAS and the search is still ongoing.

“The final decision on a new CEO will be made after due consideration and in consultation with the special shareholder, Minister of Finance Inc. The outcome will be announced in due course within the timeframe indicated previously,” it said in a statement yesterday.

“As announced on Aug 29, Khazanah is undertaking a global search for a new CEO for MAS from among Malaysians and foreign leadership talents. The search forms part of efforts to strengthen the leadership of the airline under the 12-point MAS Recovery Plan. This was reiterated by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his remarks following the announcement of the MAS Recovery Plan,” Khazanah said.

There have been reports that a foreigner is set to head MAS as CEO, a first for the flag carrier. The move is seen as a signal to stakeholders that Putrajaya is going all out to make MAS strong and sustainable.

The Cabinet, on Aug 27, approved Khazanah’s restructuring plan for the airline which, among others, would see up to 6,000 jobs cut.

The restructuring plan is deemed necessary as MAS has been incurring financial losses for years.

The Malaysian Insider reported that the plan included roping in top foreign executives to help turn around the national carrier as part of the massive revamp exercise — the latest plan since the 2002 Wide Asset Unbundling exercise — a year after Putrajaya bought back MAS from tycoon Tan Sri Tajuddin Ramli.

Apart from staff cuts, the RM6 billion restructuring will see the flag carrier dropping unprofitable routes and scaling down flight frequencies as well as reviewing lopsided contracts signed with various stakeholders.

Khazanah managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar said a new company would be set up to house the carrier once it completes its delisting exercise by the end of this year.

Current CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya will continue to lead until July 2015 when the new company comes into force. If everything goes as planned, MAS will be relisted within three to five years, or between the end of 2017 and 2019. Khazanah will then embark on a selldown or partial selldown of its stake. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 8, 2014.