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Debate Over Foreign Boss Reignited in Malaysia after Malaysia Airlines CEO's exit

Debate Over Foreign Boss Reignited in Malaysia after Malaysia Airlines CEO's exit
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 has been initiated by the abrupt exit of Malaysia Airlines' German boss.
As Aer Lingus attempted to pull itself back after the loss of two Boeing 777s in less than a year, Christoph Mueller, a German national credited with turning around the airline, took the helm at state-owned Malaysia Airlines in May last year on a three-year contract.
Industry sources and sources familiar with the matter said that the chief operating officer and Irishman Peter Bellew, formerly with Ryanair, who sits on the group's board are among the front-runners to replace him as CEO.
Mohammed Shazalli Ramly, head of unlisted telecommunications firm Celcom Axiata Bhd is who is a Malaysian executive and 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), the cannot just say they did not anticipate this from the beginning," said Tian Chua, national vice president of opposition party PKR.
It was "unfair" to bring in a foreigner for the job and his party had made such an advice to the government in 2014, he said.
"The point is that the government did not properly consider all the possible factors that affect this decision."

Giving no details, Mueller announced his departure for unspecified family reasons late on Tuesday surprising even those close to him in the company. Though he remains a non-executive director, he will leave the top job in September.
Everything - from internal disagreements to political rows and friction with Khazanah, the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund which bankrolled the bail-out, have been blamed for the exit even though there is little detail to go on and even as politicians, newspapers and social media is abuzz with the exit.
According to newspaper reports, Mueller dismissed rumors in a town hall with employees. Neither the company nor Mueller have commented further.
The government and the airline, which had anticipated Mueller would give way to a local successor in time now would have a headache as there is fresh debate over the choice of a foreigner for the top job despite the whatever being the real reason.
"For stability, an internal (candidate) sounds better, but who knows," said Mohsin Aziz, analyst at Maybank Investment Bank in Kuala Lumpur.
This is not the first time that an executive without an industry background to successfully run an airline is Shazalli Ramly is appointed. With no previous experience at all in aviation management, Kazuo Inamori successfully turned around Japan Airlines (JAL).
But such appointments and successes are rare.
In a country where running the flag carrier involves unions who have close ties to the ruling party, analysts predict, any successor will also be expected to complete the course chartered by Mueller - and it is all even tougher.
"(Mueller) made the airline more professional and I don't know if that will continue with his departure," one company executive said

Christopher J. Mitchell

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