A hard sell, but new allies want it to work


(NST) – The trouble with that is, proclaiming that MAS and AirAsia are now friends doesn’t actually make anyone believe that they can be.

ON Friday, at an interview, AirAsia Bhd co-founder Datuk Kamarudin Meranun brandished his newly-obtained Malaysia Airlines photo ID.

It was comical, as he was wearing his trademark AirAsia cap in the photo.

“Unique what… MAS photo ID with AirAsia cap. That’s the spirit of the collaboration,” he joked with partner Tan Sri Tony Fernandes.

Nothing brings the reality of the MAS-AirAsia partnership closer than seeing the tag.

As a deal, the share swap between Khazanah Nasional Bhd and Tune Air Sdn Bhd has sparked a lot of talk, most of it negative.

A lot of the scepticism stems from the fear of the unknown.

After all, how many times in the history of Corporate Malaysia have you heard of a cry for help from the government’s investment arm, Khazanah Nasional Bhd? The answer is, never.

So when the seemingly invincible Khazanah Nasional did a share swap with the founders of its one-time-foe AirAsia, obviously a lot of people went, “Hmm ..something MUST be up”.

It could be, though, that Khazanah Nasional was probably at the end of its tether with MAS. Two restructuring efforts and five managing directors later, MAS was again not making money.

No one wanted to hear about all the reasons why the national carrier was not making money. They just wanted for it to make money.

So when MAS said it had made about RM240 million in profit (after an expected RM300 million compensation from Airbus for the delay in the delivery of the A380) and upstart AirAsia announced a billion ringgit in earnings for last year, it probably got Khazanah Nasional seriously thinking.

Never mind that low-cost flying is currently king and that AirAsia was never encumbered by the legacy issues that MAS had. Khazanah Nasional must have been green with envy.

And desperation makes for strange bedfellows, doesn’t it?

So on Aug 9, 2011, we witnessed the signing of a deal that made AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines, for all intents and purposes, “friends”. More unbelievable still, Khazanah Nasional was the friend that introduced them.

The trouble with that is, proclaiming that MAS and AirAsia are now friends doesn’t actually make anyone believe that they can be.

We could all be pleasantly surprised though.

The AirAsia and MAS partnership might work for the very simple reason that both Khazanah Nasional and AirAsia want to make it work.

Who would have thought that Khazanah Nasional would agree to a deal that hadn’t had all its i’s dotted and t’s crossed yet?

And who would have thought that Fernandes and Kamarudin would ever swap AirAsia shares for MAS’?

There’s more, too.

MAS’ new executive committee and the Joint Collaboration Committee for the MAS-AirAsia partnership had meetings last week. The former’s was held at MAS’ headquarters, while the latter’s was held at AirAsia’s.

“It was different. MAS has a really nice boardroom with teak wood and all, and they have a VIP bathroom. Here (in AirAsia) we use the same one as everyone else,” Kamarudin quipped.

Datuk Azman Yahya, who is the chairperson of the Joint Collaboration Committee, even joined Kamarudin to perform Friday prayers at the nearby mosque.

On the same day, MAS’ new chairman Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof had a walkabout at the LCCT, with Fernandes by his side.

Trivial details perhaps, but telling of the working partnership to come.

As important were the MAS executive committee decisions that no expense would be spared in rebuilding the MAS premium brand and that there should be work to harness the talent that MAS has.

Two very important decisions for an airline that has been obsessed with cost cuts and seen enough management changes that staff morale is so low, it’s almost in negative territory now.

Are there more issues to be thrashed out? Most definitely.

Could there be a fallout? Who knows.

What matters is that whether it’s an AirAsia, MAS or Khazanah Nasional cap that you prefer, let’s hope that there is a common goal. Growth for MAS, AirAsia, Khazanah Nasional and ultimately, the country.