April 29, 2016
MAS: Mueller’ s successor should have vision, experience and expertise.
by Scott Ng
At the end of the day, MAS is a business, and in a business you either prove yourself capable or you don’t deserve the job. This is our national carrier, and it should be a source of national pride, but we should not let national pride in and of itself be the sole determinant of whom we choose to lead it. That person should be someone with vision, experience and expertise.–Scott Ng
If there was any doubt about Christoph Mueller’s abilities as a business manager, this was dispelled last February when MAS, in its new incarnation as Malaysia Airlines Berhad, made its first monthly profit in years. His turnaround of our national carrier is indeed nothing short of phenomenal. So it was quite surprising to hear him announce his resignation as CEO, coming as it did less than a year after he assumed the position.
Some people are speculating that it was political pressure that forced the industry-renowned airline revival specialist to depart, though Mueller has denied this. He claims that personal reasons forced his hand, and he would be taking a huge financial hit with his departure.
While no Malaysian would be surprised to hear that rent seekers may have showed up the instant MAS turned a profit, what lies behind Mueller’s departure is his own business. But as conversation turns toward appointing a new head for the national carrier, there is some unsavoury talk about his status as a foreigner, with some saying the company should be run by a Malaysian, meritocracy be damned. Even PKR’s Tian Chua reminded the public that his party had warned about bringing in a foreigner to run MAS, saying, “It is unfair to bring in a foreigner at a critical time and ask him to turn around the national airline. How can he turn around the company if he does not understand Malaysian work politics?”
We do detect a touch of irony in Tian Chua’s remark, particularly where he refers to “Malaysian work politics”. Nevertheless, his complaint about the “unfairness” of hiring a foreigner instead of a Malaysian expresses a sentiment shared by a number of politicians on both sides of the divide.
Certainly, a foreigner would not be expected to be intimately acquainted with our politics, and MAS, like all national arms, is heavily linked to the ruling party. However, it seems rather a trite reason to protest against Mueller’s appointment. It appears that we Malaysians are indeed capable of extending our racism to include hostility to the idea of having someone from outside our ken coming in and telling us how to do our jobs.
The fact is that Mueller (above) was the most competent person willing to come in to help an airline that had lost two aircraft to tragedy in the span of a few months. He was chosen because he merited the role and the challenge, and no amount of hemming and hawing and subtle racism can take that away from him. Even if the announcement of MAS’ February profits seemed like one timed to save his face, he can still take pride in his achievement, considering the sordid state that the company was in after decades of national stewardship.
Look, it’s not about where someone comes from. At the end of the day, MAS is a business, and in a business you either prove yourself capable or you don’t deserve the job. This is our national carrier, and it should be a source of national pride, but we should not let national pride in and of itself be the sole determinant of whom we choose to lead it. That person should be someone with vision, experience and expertise.