KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 6 — Malaysians are too “stupid” to manage aviation, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad remarked today following news that a German is set to captain a revamped Malaysia Airlines Systems Berhad (MAS) from next year.
Yesterday, state wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad announced Christoph R. Mueller as the chief executive officer-designate of MAS New Co in a bid to turn around the crippled national carrier’s misfortunes much as he did with Ireland’s national carrier Aer Lingus.
“Malaysians are stupid. They don’t know how to manage aviation,” the former prime minister was quoted saying by news portal Malaysiakini, after gracing a Proton design event in the city.
“And now those responsible for the losses try to make things right,” he reportedly added in what appears to be a dig at Khazanah, which holds close to 70 per cent shares in MAS.
The flag carrier marked its seventh quarterly loss in a row recently when it posted a net loss of RM575.6 million for the three months ending September 30, widening from a RM373.2 million deficit in the same period last year.
It dove deeper into the red following the mysterious loss of flight MH370 on March 8 and the July 18 shooting down over Ukraine of flight MH17.
MAS had raked in billions in profits during the 1980s but began to suffer losses a decade later, after then prime minister Dr Mahathir privatised the airline.
The MAS privatisation deal saw Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli taking out a RM1.79 billion loan in 1994 to buy a 32 per cent majority stake in the airline.
Tajudin, who was affected by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, later sold his stake in MAS to Putrajaya for RM1.79 billion — or RM8 a share — the same amount that he paid in 2001; the company’s closing share price at that time was RM3.68.
In the years since, MAS has undergone three business turnarounds at an estimated cost of nearly RM20 billion to the government.
In a statement yesterday, Khazanah said Mueller will officially be appointed as CEO-designate of MAS New Co effective January 1 as they negotiate to bring him on board by March 1 next year.
Mueller has been CEO of Aer Lingus since 2009 and his contract ends on May 1.
According to his biodata provided by Khazanah, the German is credited with turning around the Irish airline’s waning fortunes amid a declining Irish market and tepid European market conditions, and developing Dublin as among the leading hubs for North Atlantic long-haul traffic.
Mueller was also a key contributor in German carrier Lufthansa’s corporate turnaround in the 1990s, when he served as senior vice-president for network management and corporate planning, and orchestrated the move by a group of investors in the ill-fated Sabena Group one of its subsidiaries, Delta Air Transport — which has since been renamed Brussels Airlines and operates as Belgium’s national carrier.
Other new appointments include Datuk Seri Mohammed Shazalli Ramli as a non-executive director on the MAS Board, Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad Abdul Majid as chairman of the Corporate Reskilling Centre (CRC), Shahryn Azmi as chief executive of the CRC and Datuk Boonler Somchit as a non-executive director and advisor to the CRC.
Khazanah said the appointments were part of the key initiatives under its 12-point MAS Recovery Plan, and that they were agreed to by the Khazanah Board of Directors at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak Thursday.
Khazanah’s 12-point turnaround plan for the national carrier, titled “Rebuilding A National Icon — The MAS Recovery Plan”, also includes transferring all MAS assets to a new entity tentatively known as “MAS Baru” or “new MAS”.
The total takeover is to cost Khazanah some RM6 billion.