Only Up from Here for Malaysian Airlines?

Months ago we reported that Malaysian Airlines (MAS) had several options on the table after a disastrous (literally and figuratively) 2014. The theory that the Malaysian government might sell off huge chunks of the publicly traded airline seemed to hold the most weight, but ultimately ended up being nothing more than hot air. Instead, the government has chosen to regroup, de-list, and hire a “fixer” for the legacy network carrier.

Enter Christoph Mueller. In Kuala Lumpur this week, the former CEO of Ireland’s Aer Lingus has been given the task of turning the battered and bruised MAS into a winner. To say this is a monumental undertaking is still a gross understatement. In fact, industry professionals believe it to be one of the biggest challenges (if not the biggest) in the industry to date.

This is not Mueller’s first rodeo, however. The man has been credited with turning around Aer Lingus and has established a reputation as a specialist for these types of situations.

Khazanah Nasional, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund and MAS’ major shareholder, believes that Mueller is perfect for the difficult position and so do other industry professionals.

Obviously for Mueller it was a no-brainer to try and tackle the job. The airline is in terrible shape after consecutive air disasters within only months of each other, so building upwards from such a tragic low point while being a foreigner with zero experience in Asia appears to have little downside risk and nothing but upside potential for the new CEO.

Besides hiring a fixer, Khazanah Nasional announced a 12-point strategy to help right the carrier. The toughest of these was to cut 6,000 jobs from a staff of 20,000. Never an easy task to fire people, but when hiring a new gun from a foreign land, difficult decisions come with the territory.

The most challenging part no doubt—and which really goes without saying—will be the repairing of MAS’ reputation in a region of the world where reputation is everything. Malaysia is home to several million ethnic Chinese, and mainland China is an important trading partner for Malaysia, so getting the notoriously superstitious Chinese to feel comfortable aboard a MAS jet won’t come easy. For Mueller, it’s well worth the try.

H/T: The Star (Malaysia)