Malaysia Airlines Appoints Veteran Employee (And Pilot) As New CEO

Filed Under: Malaysia

In May 2015, Christoph Mueller was hired as Malaysia Airlines’ CEO, tasked with turning the airline around after they had two major crashes and were in a terrible financial situation. Just over a year later, in June 2016, he quit suddenly. Shortly after the announcement it was revealed that Mueller would be moving to Emirates, where he’s the chief transformation officer.

At Malaysia Airlines, Mueller was replaced by Peter Bellew, who was Malaysia’s chief operating officer under Mueller. Well, just a bit over a year after taking the job, he has quit as well. He’s leaving Malaysia Airlines to work for Ryanair, where he’ll be chief operations officer. His resignation came as a surprise, though he later provided an explanation for the move, explaining he was homesick and that he viewed helping Ryanair as a form of “national service.”

Often it takes a while for an airline to find a new CEO, especially when the resignation of the previous one comes as a surprise. Well, it didn’t take long for Malaysia Airlines, as the airline has already found a new CEO.

Captain Izham Ismail will become Malaysia Airlines’ executive director and group chief executive officer with immediate effect.  Captain Izham has been at Malaysia Airlines for 38 years and started his career as a pilot for the airline. Most recently he was Malaysia’s chief operating officer. Here’s a brief history of Captain Izham’s career at the airline:

Captain Izham has 38 years of experience in the aviation industry, having started his career with Malaysia Airlines as a pilot in 1979. He broke world aviation records when he flew Malaysia Airlines’ first B777-200 eastward from Seattle to Kuala Lumpur and back. The flight set new world records for longest flight and fastest round-the-world flight by a commercial airliner, with a total flight time of 41 hours 59 minutes over a distance of 23,310 miles.

Appointed to a management position just 10 years after joining Malaysia Airlines, he has climbed through the ranks over the years, including as Senior Instructor Pilot, Fleet Manager, and Director of Operations. Prior to becoming COO in 2016, he served as CEO of MASwings, Malaysia Airlines’ sister company in Sabah and Sarawak.

Captain Izham has been integral to the airline’s ongoing turnaround effort. As COO, he was responsible for the operations division, which includes flight and airport operations as well as engineering.  He led the restructuring of the engineering division for more efficient and leaner operations, and was also responsible for the airline’s fuel savings initiative

This is an interesting move on many levels. On one hand, it’s logical enough that the chief operating officer would become the CEO. For example, Peter Bellew was also the chief operating officer before becoming the CEO. So that part seems logical enough.

However, what’s interesting here is that they’re appointing someone to the position who is both a local and has also spent their entire career at the airline. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. On the plus side, chances are he’ll have an easier time getting employees to rally behind him, given he has dedicated his life to the airline, and they’ll also view him as one of “them.”

But on the other hand, Malaysia Airlines has had so many issues with corruption and mismanagement, so you’re not really getting an outside perspective here. While a CEO coming from the outside who is tasked with turning around an airline might be willing to make tough decisions and go against other parts of the management team, someone who has spent their entire career at the airline might not be willing to make such bold decisions.

The press release notes that Malaysia Airlines’ succession plan specifically calls for a local successor, though notes that the “succession plan has now been accelerated.”

Lastly, here’s what the chairman of the board and Captain Izham have to say about this decision:

Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof, Chairman of MAB, said, “On behalf of the Malaysia Airlines group, I am extremely pleased to welcome Captain Izham to this new role. Captain Izham is a key member of the MH family and brings with him 38 years of experience in the aviation industry. He has a valuable breadth of understanding that spans airline operations and business management. I am proud that he is our own internal home grown talent and I am confident that he will be able to take the airline further forward and ensure the turnaround plan is met.”

Captain Izham said: “I am extremely honoured to be entrusted with this position.  My entire career has been spent with Malaysia Airlines and it is very much my family.  Helming the national airline is a big responsibility. I am humbled and at the same time, ready for the challenge.  We are on track towards a full and complete transformation as outlined in the MRP, and I am looking forward to working with my MH colleagues to make this airline the pride of the nation again.”

Bottom line

Good luck to Captain Izham! Malaysia Airlines has been nicely recovering, and hopefully that progress continues under his leadership. The way I see it, he has both an advantage and a disadvantage — since he’s from the “inside,” he should have an easier time getting employees to rally behind him. At the same time, he faces the challenges of probably having a harder time making difficult decisions, given his history with the airline.

It’s always nice to see someone who has been at a company their whole life work their way through the ranks and make it this far.

(Tip of the hat to LoyaltyLobby)

  1. I’m guessing they were perhaps hesitant to bring in another outsider considering the short tenures of the previous two CEO’s.

    Remains to be seen if they’ll fall back into their old bad habits with a company veteran at the helm. Guess time will tell.

  2. Its worth mentioning that MAS has never hired an outsider to run the airline prior to Mr Müller, That was in line with the Malaysian government policy of giving priority to the “Bumiputera’s” (Ethnic Malays) in all major positions of government owned companies which The Economist called “racially discriminatory” policy! hence the corruption and the constant loss making!

  3. Interesting that most of the comments seen to think since he is local he will be not successful. I think the last CEO have been terrible and done nothing for Malaysia Airlines. When you get CEO’s quitting on short notice or not committing to contractual agreements means you hired the wrong person…

  4. Malaysia Airlines never really got better after what happened. I finally stopped booking them a few months ago, I was never concerned about the two fatal incidents but rather I had enough of their joke of a website, it simply doesn’t work at all on both mobile and desktop and I don’t really see why I should spend more time trying to book a flight then the flight would take.

    Their app crashes after the start screen. Enrich is dead, the last devaluation is so bad there is really no point in even considering to collect with them. They fucked up 2 of my bookings when they recently changed the reservation system, charged double taxes, refused to refund (in fact refused to accept it is a mistake to charge the same taxes twice), ignored my emails, ignored cancellation requests and much more. I booked all short haul flights for the next months with AirAsia, I rather sit in a low cost plane where I know what to expect than this endless fuck up from Malaysia Airlines.

    As for the CEO choice, it does not get much more corrupt than Malaysia and I am fully confident with the new CEO the countries tradition of racial policies and corruption will live long at Malaysia Airlines (not that it somewhat decreased with the two non Malaysian CEOs).

  5. Tony Fernandez can’t believe his luck with this appointment.. this guarantees air Asia and sub companies forever.. buy air Asia shares on KL market..

  6. This will only accelerate their decline. The cronism and corruption within Malaysia Airlines remains rife. The previous expat CEOs had little power as the management that drove the company into the ground were moved from the executive onto the board.

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