Re­mem­ber­ing a ti­tan

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

Our fore­most chal­lenge now was to go in­ter­na­tional. It was a truly daunt­ing task.

SIA had teamed up with Qan­tas and Bri­tish Air­ways to box us in from Aus­tralia to the UK.

Cathay Pa­cific and JAL blocked us from the East. Thai Air­ways and SAS were sited to the North. We were truly hemmed in.

Aerial com­bat is usu­ally termed a “dog­fight” be­cause dog eats dog.

Air­lines fight to pro­tect their right to carry pas­sen­gers at home or abroad to the ex­clu­sion of other air­lines.

Cut throat price wars, fringe ben­e­fits like sub­sidised flights from the hin­ter­land to the hub, free ac­com­mo­da­tion plus other fringe ben­e­fits are all part of the lure.

Al­though traf­fic rights to take pas­sen­gers from one coun­try to and from another coun­try, and from that coun­try to a third or fourth coun­try along the way to the ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion (called “free­doms”) are no­tion­ally given by the gov­ern­ment of those coun­tries, (bi-lat­er­als) in ac­tual fact a case has to be first es­tab­lished with the na­tional flag car­rier based in those coun­tries.

In other words, hav­ing a big new plane serv­ing the best food with the most beau­ti­ful air hostesses was a non-starter un­less we could first ne­go­ti­ate our traf­fic rights into those ter­ri­to­ries with an ad­e­quate pas­sen­ger load and cargo.

Be­sides, those big planes cost mil­lions in US dol­lars. The chal­lenge was pay­ing back the loan.

This is done in an­nual in­stal­ments spread over say 20 years and should be paid from the in­come gen­er­ated af­ter pay­ing off fuel bills, op­er­a­tion costs and wages. All this meant very care­ful fore­cast­ing of pro­jected earn­ings and ex­pen­di­ture.

It was into this sce­nario that I was ap­pointed a board mem­ber of MAS in 1975 and first met Saw.

Only five foot six and about 140 lbs with a very soft voice, Saw was the anti-the­sis of the usual, big, brawny and bossy air­line man.

This first im­pres­sion was im­me­di­ately dis­persed when he started dis­cussing the is­sues we had to con­front.

Dur­ing my ten­ure on the board till 1983 the other board mem­bers were our chair­man, deputy chair­man Tan Sri Su­laiman Su­jak, Tan Sri Ishak Tadin then the sec­re­tary-gen­eral from the Min­istry of Trans­port. From the Trea­sury we had the late Tan Sri Ma­lik Mer­i­can and Tan Sri Ra­mon Navarat­nam, and in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tors Tun Dzaid­din Ab­dul­lah, Tan Sri Az­man Hashim and Datuk Yap Lim Sen.

Pa­tri­o­tism was of a dif­fer­ent or­der then. Our di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing Datuk Re­sham Singh and his as­so­ciate Sitham Nadara­jah and our di­rec­tor of cus­tomer ser­vices Lee Shu Poh all left Sin­ga­pore to serve MAS.

From within the MCS we had the in­de­fati­ga­ble Tan Sri Aziz Ab­dul Rah­man as com­pany sec­re­tary, Ka­marud­din Isa in charge of fi­nan­cial af­fairs, and his as­so­ciate Poopalasingam, Datuk Ab­dul­lah Mat Zaid in hu­man re­sources, Bernard Thomazios for com­mer­cial af­fairs.

Capt Has­san, Capt Khary, Capt Ali and Capt Gurchu­ran Singh, all Datuks were our se­nior pilots.

Our se­nior sta­tion man­agers were Chan Chat Lai, Peter Ling, Azlan Hus­sain, among oth­ers.

Se­lana Oth­man gave us her stun­ning de­signs for the uni­forms of our air hostesses and even the unique pat­tern of our Nori­take crock­ery with its multi-coloured Ke­lan­tan kite de­sign.

These are some of the names that come to mind who went to mak­ing up the di­verse tal­ents who were har­nessed to make the air­line one ef­fi­cient fly­ing ma­chine.

At our an­i­mated dis­cus­sions, on the board our chair­man was a ge­nius in achiev­ing con­sen­sus.

We only took a vote twice in the 10 years I was on the board.

What changed me for­ever when I came within the aura of Saw and the late Raja Mo­har was the power of team­work.

Be­yond my cham­bers and the court room and as part of the team I had to help drive hard bar­gains with some of the most so­phis­ti­cated busi­ness­men and bu­reau­crats when we were ne­go­ti­at­ing con­tracts for air­craft or for traf­fic rights es­pe­cially into London.

The fre­quency of its ser­vices, its me­chan­i­cal re­li­a­bil­ity, the al­lure of its cabin crew, the in-flight ser­vice, the in­ter­nal dé­cor of the cabin, and the qual­ity of its cui­sine, all added up to give the air­line its unique charisma and ap­peal.

Saw was the man who held this team to­gether, and in­spired it to greater heights.

In ad­di­tion to his per­sonal touch with ev­ery one in the or­gan­i­sa­tion right down to the tea ladies, he gave us an unerring sense of pur­pose by his cor­po­rate phi­los­o­phy of man­age­ment by ob­jec­tive.

To­day, the pub­lic thinks that MAS only sur­vived by its bail-outs.

As long as Saw and Aziz and their stal­warts were there the air­line lived up to its name.

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