MAS chief no stranger to tough challenges

MAS chief no stranger to tough challenges
MAS chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Airlines (MAS) chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya has one of the world's most difficult jobs right now.

Since the disappearance of Flight MH370 carrying 239 passengers and crew on March 8, he has been juggling back-to-back briefings with Malaysian officials, media scrutiny and a backlash from the anguished relatives of passengers.

On top of all that, Mr Ahmad, 59, still has a company to run. Even before the devastating impact of the MH370 mystery, MAS was bleeding money. Last year, it lost RM1.17 billion (S$450 million) amid high operating costs and lower revenue from airfares.

Mr Ahmad is known as a straight-talking chief executive, but the stress of the last three weeks has seen him dodging questions and avoiding eye contact with journalists outside the daily press briefings on MH370.

When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that it had been concluded from satellite data that Beijing-bound MH370 "ended" its journey in the Indian Ocean south-west of Perth, Mr Ahmad, who rarely shows emotions publicly, was caught on camera shedding tears.

But Mr Ahmad, better known as "AJ", is no stranger to hardship. A small, lean man, he took part in four Ironman triathlon races between 2003 and 2009, in which competitors swim, cycle and run for more than 200km. In 2009, he finished the race in 14 hours and 22 minutes. Winners usually finish the race in under 10 hours.

Mr Ahmad is an electrical and electronic engineering graduate from the University of Nottingham in Britain.

He is also an old hand at running companies, having spent 20 years in top posts in various sectors, including at biofuel producer Premium Renewable Energy (Malaysia).

A hands-on manager at all the companies he ran, Mr Ahmad's accolades include being the first to adopt the Atex publishing software for the New Straits Times when he was production manager in the 1980s. The system is still used by major Malaysian media companies.

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