Malaysia Airlines Appoints New CEO; Old CEO Quits Effective Immediately

Filed Under: Malaysia

Malaysia Airlines has obviously had a really tough few years. They were already struggling financially, though that was made exponentially worse when two of their 777s crashed just months apart.


The smartest thing the airline did to try and improve their situation was 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.

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However, in April it was announced that Christoph Mueller would be leaving Malaysia Airlines before his contract expired due to “personal reasons.” He was supposed to leave in September, which would be about halfway through his contract. However, just a few days ago we found out what Christoph Mueller will be doing after Malaysia — Mueller will work for Emirates, as their chief transformation officer.

The circumstances surrounding his departure from Malaysia Airlines are mysterious. Initially they said he was leaving for “personal reasons,” though lately the official line has been that he’s leaving due to “changing personal circumstances.”

My understanding has been that he left because he couldn’t handle the toxic corporate culture at Malaysia Airlines. However, I’ve been hearing some other interesting rumors about reasons he supposedly left, which I can’t personally confirm, but they do fit more in line with an explanation of “changing personal circumstances.”

Anyway, with Mueller’s departure from Malaysia a sure bet, it’s interesting to note that Malaysia Airlines has now announced a replacement CEO… and he’s taking over tomorrow!

Malaysia Airlines’ chief operating officer, Peter Bellew, will be taking over as the airline’s CEO. Per the press release:

Mr. Mueller, who resigned on 10 March 2016 and is serving his notice period to 9 September 2016, will go on leave and step down from the MAB Board from 1 July 2016. He will be replaced by Mr. Bellew, who has been appointed the new Group MD and CEO of MAG and MAB respectively, effective 1 July 2016. Mr. Mueller will remain available to the company until the end of his notice period to help ensure a smooth leadership transition.


It’s interesting that he’ll be taking over as of July 1, which means Mueller is leaving even sooner than initially expected. Bellew was brought on as part of Malaysia Airlines’ turnaround team, though aside from that I didn’t know much about him. Here’s what the press release says about him:

An Irish national, Mr. Bellew has over 20 years of experience in the aviation industry. He joined MAB from Ryanair Ltd., where he served in various roles with increasing responsibility since 2006, leaving the airline as the Director of Flight Operations responsible for 72 bases operating a total of 320 aircraft. In this role, he ensured cost-effective operations and punctuality at more than 150 airports in over 30 countries, created a training organisation for 600 new Boeing pilots, built employee representative council structures in 19 countries, opened 61 new overseas bases, and introduced new technologies to reduce costs across the airline.

Mr. Bellew also served as the Head of Sales and Marketing at Ryanair, where he played a pivotal role in introducing new customer service initiatives, pan-European TV advertising, and positive press relations, contributing to record sales. Prior to that, he served as Deputy Director of Flight Operations.

He seems like a good fit in the sense that he’s “new blood,” and wasn’t part of Malaysia Airlines’ old, messy management team. It’s also interesting that his background is with Ryanair, which is an ultra low cost carrier. If history is any indicator, airlines’ CEOs do seem to often stick to their roots when it comes to the type of airline they choose to run, so I’m curious what that means for Malaysia Airlines. Bye bye business class on regional flights, perhaps?


Bottom line

All things considered I think it’s good news that a Malaysia Airlines “outsider” is taking over. It’ll be interesting to see what changes he makes, given his background with low cost carriers, just as I’m curious to see what Mueller tries to change at Emirates, given his background with airlines in terrible financial situations.

Furthermore, Mueller’s departure from Malaysia Airlines continues to be quite a mystery, especially with his “changing personal circumstances.” I’ve heard two completely opposite theories, both from reputable sources, so I guess we’ll just never know.

What do you make of a former Ryanair executive taking over at Malaysia Airlines?

  1. Lucky,

    Will you say what some of these other rumors are? I would love to hear them if possible. Thanks!

    -PD (@DallasFortWorthSpotter on IG)

  2. I suspect MH has no idea how horrible they look with these recent management changes.

    Or they know how horrible they look and simply don’t care.

  3. I’m not sure if Malaysia Airlines is capable of change. The corporate culture, supported by the powers of patronage from the highest level of government is resistant to any type of change that seeks to eliminate positions and halt the gravy train. Why anyone, who is not a beneficiary of the system would choose to be CEO is beyond me.

  4. “However, I’ve been hearing some other interesting rumors about reasons he supposedly left, which I can’t personally confirm, but they do fit more in line with an explanation of ‘changing personal circumstances.'”

    C’mon Lucky. It’s BS to just tease some rumor you’re hearing. Either fully state the rumor, or if you’re not comfortable with that, don’t mention it at all.

  5. First trip using MH from Sydney to London and return. All in all a pretty reasonable experience. The FA were great and on A380 and newish 330 so hard product was fine. It’s small polishing touches that one gets on say Qantas, my usual carrier, which are missing. If anything the new CEO needs to be looking at these small touches rather than getting into LCC territory.

  6. “My understanding has been that he left because he couldn’t handle the toxic corporate culture at Malaysia Airlines.”

    My understanding has been that toxic corporate cultures were supposed to be his bread and butter. Apparently Christoph Mueller bit off more than he could chew, which kind of deflates that best of the “crisis CEO’s” claim we keep hearing. Smart enough to have another job already lined up but not quite smart enough to actually fix MH before leaving. Wonder how long he’ll be with EK.

  7. I use Malaysia quite a bit for BKK-SYD/MEL. It’s a good service, stop in KL is not too long. The main attraction is the fare : now as low as B36000 J return ( ie USD 950, AUD 1225), cf Qantas @ 100,000, Thai @90,000. Even the appalling Jetstar is more. More commonly Malaysia is 60-70,000 , but still a significant saving if time is not critical.
    Now they earn Skyteam award miles ( but not level miles) and it may be the better use rather than the almost zero for crediting to Qantas .
    Going anywhere in Asia ex Bangkok the cheapest fare will be Malaysia via KUL.

  8. Bye bye business class regional flights in MH = bye bye easy tier point runs for BA Gold. 🙁

    Anyway, I wish him the best, though it’s arguable to say the smartest thing MH did was hire Mueller when he did major layoffs, get rid of 777 fleet, MH losing its 5-star skytrax status, etc. and not even fulfill his contract (nor half the length of his contract.) I’m not even sure if he turned the company around. I recall reading MH getting a lot of business again back in February, but that’s probably due to Chinese New Year travel in the region. I wonder how they’re doing the past few months.

    I wish Mueller the best and am quite surprised he now works for Emirates, since I don’t think EK is in a crisis right now, or is it? 😉

    I agree with the others — stop teasing us please! hehe

  9. “My understanding has been that he left because he couldn’t handle the toxic corporate culture at Malaysia Airlines.”

    So they bring in a guy who previously was in the C-suite of one of the most toxic LCCs on the planet? Gotcha. Honestly, our travel regulations for work may be getting revised to put Malaysia back on the no fly list.

    I would hate to see it happen (largely because so many of the smaller operators in that part of the world already are on the no fly list; less pointedly, it was because of the fact that Malaysia used to be a good choice if you couldn’t fly Singapore, etc) but putting someone whose primary background is Ryanair into running an airline in a part of the world that doesn’t have the greatest reputation for being up to snuff with regards to pilot training, maintenance and other safety issues just makes me uneasy.

  10. Lousy CEO. white man is no better than asians. Look at SIA CEO. smart man. This new CEO is doing what any fool on the street can do to make profit which is by cutting cost massively. No different to any street vendors selling banana fritters or nasi lemak. Good CEO makes money by increasing revenue. Thats more difficult. They even save cost on a freaking bun, tea/coffee. If you noticed, there will always be turbulence on MAS flight and they will not serve any hot beverages. lol. Lousy low IQ CEO.

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