This Can’t Be Good: Malaysia Airlines’ CEO Resigns

Filed Under: Malaysia

While there are plenty of struggling airlines, the one I probably feel worst for is Malaysia Airlines. The airline had already been losing money for years, and then they lost two Boeing 777 aircraft just months apart, which is just about an unprecedented tragedy.

Probably the smartest thing the airline did in a while is hire Christoph Mueller as their CEO, who is known as one of the industry’s best “crisis CEOs.” He turned around Aer Lingus, and had a three year contract at Malaysia Airlines, where he started as CEO on May 1, 2015.

He has made radical changes to the airline, including huge layoffs, transferring all assets to a new companyretiring the entire 777 fleet, installing a new longhaul business class product, entering into a partnership with Emirates for longhaul flying, going dry on short-haul flights, and much more.

Malaysia Airlines retired all their 777s

Ultimately the changes are working, because Malaysia turned their first monthly profit in years this February, and is still hoping to be profitable by 2018.

Well, even though Christoph Mueller’s contract runs for three years, he’s expected to terminate it early, and will be leaving his position as Malaysia Airlines CEO in September 2016 due to “personal reasons.” He’s expected to remain with the airline as a non-executive director. Per Astro Awani, here’s what the board had to say about Mueller’s departure:

“The  Board  has  acknowledged  Mr  Mueller’s  plan  to  leave  ahead  of  time,  which  is  due to  his  changing personal  circumstances,  and  has  commenced  a  search  for  a  new  CEO,  which  will  encompass  both internal and external potential candidates,” said MAB in a statement here today.

MAC chairman Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof said the company was disappointed to lose Christoph as CEO but  we  fully  understand  his  reasons  and  respect  his  need  to  do  this.

“On behalf of the Board, the  management team and the employees, I want to thank Christoph for his immense contribution to the  restructuring of Malaysia Airlines. Since he joined, Christoph has made a significant impact in putting the airline on the desired trajectory towards full recovery and we appreciate all his efforts.

“His hard work over the last year has seen Malaysia Airlines set on a path where there has already been encouraging progress.  There  are  other  significant  strategic  decisions  already  in  the  pipeline  which  Christoph  has made  preparations  for  and  will  manage  through,” said Md Nor.

Malaysia Airlines A380

Here’s what Mueller himself had to say:

“I am proud of what we have achieved as a team in such a short time and that the hard work  of  all  of  our  employees  is  already  showing  the  first  signs  of  success.  I am looking forward  to continuing this exciting task for another six months in my executive position,” said Mueller in the statement.

“Unfortunately, personal circumstances will make it difficult for me to complete my full term. The  airline has been restructured  and  re-positioned  to  regain  its  leading  position  in  customer  experience  and  to  continue  to  connect Malaysia with the world.

“I am confident that the company is now on the right track to succeed in its next phase of growth under a new CEO. I remain fully committed to do everything possible to facilitate the continuing turnaround of Malaysia Airlines,” he added.

Malaysia-Airlines-Lounge-Kuala-Lumpur - 43
Malaysia Airlines 737

Of course Christoph Mueller deserves to have his privacy respected, but I do wonder if the “personal circumstances” line is the actual reason he’s leaving Malaysia Airlines, or if there’s more to it. Perhaps the personal circumstances are that he can’t freaking take it at the airline anymore. 😉

There’s no doubt he took over an airline which was in shock and in a state of near disrepair, and is also fighting an uphill battle given that it’s government owned, and historically there has been quite a bit of corruption in the Malaysian aviation industry.

Let’s hope that Malaysia Airlines hires an outsider to take over as CEO, or at least not someone who has been at the airline for decades contributing to their problems.

What do you make of Christoph Mueller’s early departure from Malaysia Airlines?

(Tip of the hat to Calvin)

  1. Now that Malaysian government figured out a way funnel tax payers money indirectly (thru a national bank) they will go back to old way of doing things. No CEO will survive trying to layoff 6000 politically well connected employees. They all will be rehired. 20,000 employees for 55 narrow bodies. So efficient.

  2. rofl, you “respect his personal privacy” and then invite the internet audience to speculate why he’s really leaving…

  3. I respect his privacy as well but given how far Malaysia is from Europe, that may partly be a reason. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see whether MH will continue to earn a profit the next few months or whether February was just due to timing (a LOT of people travel over Chinese New Year, which was in February this year.)
    I wish him well and hopefully in the future he won’t be known as a ‘crisis CEO’ but rather just a great CEO. 😉

  4. I’m a Malaysian and what a sad day today it is for Malaysian aviation. It is obvious that the problems that have dragged us into the mire remains today even though Mueller was appointed. Until we get rid of the cronies and corruption, I’m afraid we will never see the glory days of Malaysia Airlines once again. We used to be on par with Singapore Airlines in the early-mid 2000s. Look what has happened.

  5. If you live in South East Asia and know how Malaysian companies work, none of this would have surprised you…

  6. Respect his privacy but ask your blog to dig for dirt.
    Love your style.
    I know a few nasty queeens who do this.

  7. As long as Ben doesn’t ask for people to respect his privacy if he and Dodge breakup then a little catty speculation regarding Mueller’s departure isn’t really harming anybody.

  8. Nothing to do with personal reasons. He is likely unable to do his job because of continuous meddling. No surprise for anyone who knows how Malaysian gvt related companies are managed.

  9. Malaysia Airlines CEO has laid down a great foundation, by following the plan he has set for the Airline, everything should be ok and Malaysia Airlines will become a great Airline again. Thank you Mr Christoph Mueller!

  10. Hahahahaha ..nice one 😉 @Ernest

    I flew on MH back in January. Lovely airline, what a shame. Malaysia is an amazing country, but rife with corruption….very sad! Disgusting actually!

  11. I believe he was pressured to leave. Don’t believe what the Malaysian government says. Corruption is everywhere there. Then this nuisance of religion .. No liquor on short haul flights. A once upon a good airline gone bad..

  12. I agree with Ron’s comments. I suspect that while his re-structuring of the airline was acceptable, some top people whether in Government, Business or the Airline who were obstructing the changes for their own vested interests meant that his staying the course was untenable.

  13. I agree with shankar’s comments. No liquor on short haul flights. Was this the decision from Mueller? Personally, I don’t think so. A decision made without his consent more like it. If Mueller made that decision, then he is definitely a Crisis CEO indeed.
    Mueller wants you to think that MAS is profiting first time before he leave. Well, he was selling next year’s flights for a fraction to generate revenue before his departure, what a clever move also. His concept, “If you work with idiots, you should treat them like idiots”
    Customer services in MAS is STILL a joke…no improvement but WORST.

  14. If you dig into the service providers to MH, eg catering, these companies all mostly related to the cronies. If Mueller cut budget, it means he is cutting their source of income too. Who would be happy? Taking the bottled water served on MH for instance, the cost that MH get is almost similar to what we buy at a retail shop. I still support my home carrier, I wish someone with no personal (or others) interest can save the airline.

  15. All the best to him and Malaysia airlines. It could be due to health reasons that he can’t complete his term perhaps?

  16. I predicted he would leave before his 3 years, I just didn’t think it was less than a year. I think he was asked to leave. By whom? Your guess is as good as mine. If you are Malaysian, you would figure it out.

  17. I would not be surprised to learn that islamic hardliners in the government pushed him out.
    Hopefully one day we will know……

  18. CM has a reputation that most would wish he kept in his trousers – happened at Aer Lingus now at MH. If he was pressured to leave it would have been to protect the image of the Airline and Malaysian decency. Really Mueller, grow up.

  19. The reality of personal interest – he is starting the same cut down, full freedome, less responsibility (not official CEO I guess), for a more lucrative package in a more enjoyable for an European place …… Emirates Airlines, Dubai, Sep 2016…. Wait to see….. end of the road for us….

  20. 1. If you live in South East Asia and know how Malaysian companies work, none of this would have surprised
    2. I would not be surprised to learn that islamic hardliners in the government pushed him out.
    Hopefully one day we will know……
    3. If you are Malaysian, you would figure it out.
    4. No surprise for anyone who knows how Malaysian gvt related companies are managed.
    5. I believe he was pressured to leave. Don’t believe what the Malaysian government says. Corruption is
    everywhere there. Then this nuisance of religion .. No liquor on short haul flights. A once upon a good airline
    gone bad..

    1403; formation. 1511; Portuguese occopation, 1641; Dutch occupation, 1786; the British and on, and on. The bottom line is Malaysia is Malaysia and still is. People and companies from all over the world still come and do their things here.
    Re: what promted Mr. CEO Muller’s decision, no one knows but him and yet the above comments never fell short of hanging dirt on the magnificent country. Mate, the word is full of corruption and everyone lies a little sometimes. I love Malaysia and It saddened me to find out that the MAS flight I took from KL to Brisbane at last Hari Raya was the last of such service. Sure mate, MAS would not make the profit in February if it wasn’t for the Chenese New Year’s dollars! He, he, he. I love MAS. Don’t let them change you or re-arrange you!!!

  21. until all the laws of connection and privilege are removed and people have jobs based on their own merit rather than ethnicity, there will never be a world class company existing in Malaysia. Brain drain is the result of years of Bumiputra policies. I feel graced to have been born in a country where race and religion no longer has any credibility in determining the country’s policies.

  22. Please take back High Dunleavy!
    He appears to manage to move from airline to airline systematically destroying any positives he can.
    Cleverly bringing his ‘yes boys’ (as not experienced enough to be men) from Malaysian Airlines has set Qatar Airways back years. The guy has no forward thinking whatsoever, replacing people for the sake of showing he is making changes but not sharing any reasons or vision for this, and unfortunately every airline he works in reaps what he sows (Previously Westjet and Malaysian).
    We would need Mueller to follow him around sorting out his mess.

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