Malaysia Airlines CEO's exit revives debate over foreign boss

Thu Apr 21, 2016 8:25pm EDT
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By Praveen Menon and Siva Govindasamy

KUALA LUMPUR/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The abrupt exit of Malaysia Airlines' German boss has revived debate in Malaysia over the wisdom of picking a foreigner to run its ailing carrier, potentially limiting the group's options as it seeks a new leader midway through a radical revamp.

Christoph Mueller, a German national credited with turning around Aer Lingus, took the helm at state-owned Malaysia Airlines in May last year on a three-year contract, as it attempted to pull itself back after the loss of two Boeing 777s in less than a year.

Among the front-runners to replace him as CEO is chief operating officer and Irishman Peter Bellew, formerly with Ryanair, who sits on the group's board, industry sources and sources familiar with the matter said.

Another is Malaysian executive Mohammed Shazalli Ramly, head of unlisted telecommunications firm Celcom Axiata Bhd, who has no experience in airlines but joined the board last year.

"It is a strategic national company with lots of national pride involved. When they hired (Mueller), they cannot just say they did not anticipate this from the beginning," said Tian Chua, national vice president of opposition party PKR.

He said his party had advised the government in 2014 that it was "unfair" to bring in a foreigner for the job.

"The point is that the government did not properly consider all the possible factors that affect this decision."

Surprising even those close to him in the company, Mueller announced his departure for unspecified family reasons late on Tuesday, giving no further detail. He will leave the top job in September, though he remains a non-executive director.   Continued...

Christoph Mueller, CEO of Malaysia Airlines, speaks during a panel discussion at the 2015  International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit in Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. June 8, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo