Ouch: Malaysia Airlines CEO Quits, Moves To Ryanair

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. Peter Bellew has stepped down as CEO of Malaysia Airlines, and will work for Ryanair, where he’ll be the chief operations officer. Even more interesting, the announcement was made by Ryanair rather than Malaysia, as it seems that his former employer had no clue he was quitting.

Two Malaysia Airlines CEOs have quit just a bit over a year after taking the job, and both have taken pretty significant job title “downgrades.” In the case of Bellew, he’s returning to a company he used to work for, though at a terrible time, when Ryanair’s performance has been awful, as they’ve been plagued with endless cancelations.

Bellew has the following statement on Ryanair’s website:

“I am excited to return home to Ryanair and take up the challenge to grow the operation sustainably.  I look forward to working with all the team and all the crews I know so well to further develop our growth to 600 aircraft over the next 6 years.”

It seems like this announcement completely caught Malaysia Airlines off guard. According to The Malay Mail:

Malaysia Airlines said today it has been made aware of chief executive officer Peter Bellew’s “unexpected” return to Ryanair as its chief operations officer.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines pointed out that Bellew had previously denied he would rejoin the Irish airline.

“Malaysia Airlines takes note of the unexpected announcement by Ryanair Holdings PLC to the London Stock Exchange regarding CEO Peter Bellew,” Malaysia Airlines said.

The statement pointed out that during a press conference on September 27, Bellew had expressed his commitment to Malaysia Airlines when asked to comment on speculation that he would re-join Ryanair.

Bellew had reportedly said that he was happy to be in Malaysia and that the turnaround of Malaysia Airlines would be “the greatest achievement of my life”.

Malaysia Airlines seems to generally be on the road to recovery, and it seems like Bellew has done a good job. We obviously don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, as you’d think he’d want to stay on for more than a year or so and get the airline back to profitability for the purposes of his career.

However, clearly there’s a lot going on that we don’t know of, given that two CEOs have quit in such a short timeframe.

What do you make of Malaysia Airlines’ CEO stepping down?

(Tip of the hat to May Lim)

  1. Properly being “asked” to approve the purchase of $100 per roll of toilet paper, $200 per bottle of hand soap, or 100 years prepaid catering contract. Bellew properly don’t want to be the fall guy if things go wrong . . . . Welcome to Malaysia

  2. i’m not so sure MH is actually “turning around” …. more like (a) people are starting to slowly forget the past, and (b) they’ve stabilized as opposed to unmitigated free fall.

    The name remained. The logo remained. The lingering questions still remain.

  3. @henry LAX. I agree, I think the brand is still tainted given the memory of the two crashes, especially MH 370.

  4. MH is a typical example of a state airline being run with political interference and heavy constraints on any chief executive’s (and the entire management team’s) ability to make changes and fix things that are broken. They want to fix routes, airplanes, staffing, and are prevented from doing so by non-business-related considerations. I would quit too.

  5. Malaysia is not an easy place to work for a state-run firm right now (the government remains hopelessly tangled in the massive and still-unfolding 1MDB scandal etc) and as others point out we really don’t know what’s happening at all behind the scenes. The appearance of stability may be fleeting. FWIW I still know many, many people in Hong Kong who gladly pay the significant markup to fly CX rather than MH to Malaysia and SE Asian destinations, so I don’t think think people have forgotten very much at all.

  6. For what it’s worth, I flew Malaysian thrice in September. It was perfectly fine. In fact, I was impressed by the level of service in regional business-class on 1-hour flights. Some of the lounges have been closed. Others are being renovated. My only complaint is there’s really not much to do at Kuala Lumpur’s airport to keep yourself occupied on a long connection.

    It all comes down to the airline being a state entity. The Malaysian government is going into an election next year and for the first time in a while the governing party may not win re-election. For example, the prime minister has been creating new holidays to appease voters. There were like 3 national holidays in 2 weeks when I was there.

  7. Didnt find this too surprising especially after the 789 LOI was signed when Bellew kept saying all along that he wanted A330NEOs. Small fleets of 359 and 789 makes no economic sense so probably Government interference starting again? This is how they wound up with the 388 and what a stunning success they have been.

  8. This organization is one of the top 5 worldwide corrupt entities.. , makes the Clinton foundation a boy in short pants. From the Prime Minister to each of the Sultans each state get generous cash kick backs for each aircraft leased.. impossible for this organization to be transparent.. its the way the Malaysians roll. Hillary should apply to the next CEO she be able to should the Malaysians a trick or two , she be right at home.

  9. With the elections very likely to be held within a couple of months, perfect time for a local to step in as CEO and play the nationalism agenda. Not just for the airline industry, but it is generally happening across all over Malaysia.

    I used to fly often with Malaysia airlines and still do. I just hope the improvements continue and not jeopardized just to please a few individual’s agenda.

  10. This is quite depressing.

    As a Malaysian who strongly supports Malaysia Airlines, I was really hoping that Mueller and subsequently, Bellew, could have turned the airline around. Having met the both of them, I had no doubt they could have if they have been given unmitigated support and unsolicited interference.

    But @Nick is correct. There are too many vested interests and untangling this Gordian knot is beyond the scope of one (or even a few) good men or women.

  11. I wonder if Bellew will cite ‘personal reason’ as a reason for leaving! LOL

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic!

    MH meets a sizeable portion of my business travel needs in South East Asia and the Sub-Continent.

    It would be a disaster for Oneworld if MH went the way of AB.

    At least in Europe there is BA, IB and AY. While CX/KA can meet the East Asia gap and UL, the Sub-Continent if MH folds, the South East Asia gap is harder to fill with existing Oneworld carriers.

  12. Peter Bellew must be mad, he’s joining RyanAir as they’re suffering from not only the pilot holiday staffing/cancelled flights disaster but also Brexit.

    Both problems, realistically, could see the airline go bust.

    He obviously likes a challenge!

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