Irishman Peter Bellew tells Power List Asia why he’s confident about piloting troubled Malaysia Airlines back onto the stock market by 2019, in his first television exclusive since taking the hot seat.
SINGAPORE: He’s got what he himself has called the toughest job in the business today. But nearly two months after taking over the reins at Malaysia Airlines (MAS), Peter Bellew is vowing that this “will be the greatest turnaround in the history of aviation, I’ve no doubt about it”.
Public relations optimism, a rallying call, or simply the confidence of a man with a working plan?
In his first sit-down television interview since becoming chief executive on July 1, 2016, Mr Bellew – who joined MAS in September 2015 as chief operating officer – goes into detail on why the plan will work, and is working.
“It’s attention to detail on all areas, but particularly on the cost side,” he said. “Like how much do we pay the guy who puts the fuel in the aircraft? If you’re buying nasi lemak in Shanghai, what do you pay over there?”
And with the airline’s load factor currently running at 68 per cent, just under break-even point, he told the programme Power List Asia: “I believe over the next 18 months, we can have a really good stab at getting it up to 80 per cent.”
The episode premieres Thursday (Aug 25) at 8.30pm (SG/HK) on Channel NewsAsia.
The flagship airline of Malaysia has suffered losses since 2011 amounting to over US$1 billion. Then there were the two disasters in 2014 - the disappearance of MH370 and the downing of MH17 over Ukraine - which sent the company into a tailspin and led to its delisting.
To get MAS back on the stock market by 2019, Mr Bellew, 51, talks about priorities – such as getting ticket prices right, more aggressive promotion, and cost cutting - which includes moving some flights to KL International Airport 2.
He addresses the issue of those who are not happy about a foreigner running MAS (completely understandable, but “just get over it”, he says); questions over whether parent Khazanah Nasional will grant him a free hand (he claims he doesn’t want one); and criticism that the company lacks a “performance culture” (that’s changing, he notes.)
Watch: On staff culture and being a foreigner boss.
He also talks about how he reaches out to staff over teh tarik, in his regular walks around the airport, and during a mamak stall dinner with 150 “quite anxious pilots”.
The Irishman took over the CEO post from German turnaround specialist Christoph Mueller, who quit unexpectedly a year into a three-year contract. He was the first non-Malaysian to hold the reins, and had set in motion a RM6 billion recovery plan that Mr Bellew is now overseeing.
Mr Bellew, previously director of flight operations at Dublin-based Ryanair, describes himself as “a real kampong boy” who grew up in a small town in Ireland. The father of four says one sign that his family is settling in well, is when his two daughters asked daddy for supper to “go down to Ravi’s and get us some roti canai please”.
Watch the interview with Mr Peter Bellew on Power List Asia, Aug 25, at 8.30pm SG/HK on Channel NewsAsia. Encore telecast on Aug 27 at 1.30pm and Aug 28 at 11.30am.