New MAS CEO an old hand at dealing with crises

New MAS CEO an old hand at dealing with crises

PETALING JAYA - Many Malaysia Airlines employees are still pinning their hopes on Christoph Mueller to save their jobs.

But that is not going to be easy because MAS' parent, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, has made it clear that the workforce needs to be trimmed and the excesses must go.

Many staff feel they might not be facing their quandary if Mueller had been hired much earlier.

Mueller, 52, is an old hand at managing this type of crisis.

Before joining MAS, he was the CEO of Ireland's Aer Lingus, where he had to trim the workforce and deal with the unions to make the airline profitable again. He also did a rescue job for Sabena Airlines.

"For first impressions, he inspires confidence and MAS staff need doses of it," said an aviation executive.

"He is fluent and has a good grasp of the language in the way he describes things. His business analysis is sound and there's no doubt he knows the aviation industry well.

"The question is, with the data available, how he will use it to make MAS profitable again when others with the same information could not do so," he added.

Mueller is also a hands-on person. On his first day at work at MAS, he drove to work himself and had to get someone to open his room door because he came in very early.

He does not have aides to give him details and he does his homework himself.

"He may seem very tough, but he also has a sense of humour and knows that engaging with the staff and unions is vital for harmony in an organisation," said the executive.

One of the first things Mueller did was to meet unions and send a long e-mail to MAS employees on the situation of the airline.

"There is no doubt that he is on top of the game and knows the business well. The question is does he have enough time to cobble his team. More importantly, will he have a free hand at selecting his core team?" asked the executive.

Mueller's biggest challenge in the coming days would also be to manoeuvre the legacy issues like culture, which plays a big part of the way MAS is managed, and politics - within and externally.

"Will he be able to say no to something that others have not been able to?" the executive asked.

Mueller was dubbed "The Terminator" in Ireland because his German accent made for easy comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger in assassin-robot mode as he outlined his plans to fix Aer Lingus.

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