New bosses at Petronas and MAS

New bosses at Petronas and MAS

Malaysian PM puts CEO of state oil company in charge of struggling airline

Malaysia Airlines aircraft stand on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on May 13. (Bloomberg Photo)
Malaysia Airlines aircraft stand on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on May 13. (Bloomberg Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has made changes at the top of the country’s two highest-profile state enterprises, Petronas and Malaysia Airlines.

Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, the president and CEO of Petroliam Nasional Bhd, will become chairman of Malaysia Airlines. The four-decade veteran of Petronas will be replaced by the oil company’s chief financial officer, Tengku Muhammad Taufik Tengku Aziz. Both appointments are effective July 1.

“In a challenging economic environment, there are some state-owned companies that need to be strengthened to meet the world’s new normal,” Muhyiddin said.

“The government will continue to re-look at the leadership in state-owned companies to ensure they are achieving the country’s socio-economic objectives.”

Local media including The Edge Malaysia earlier reported that Wan Zulkiflee would be leaving after holding the top job at Petronas for the past five years. His contract was renewed for three years from April 2018.

He had spent his entire career with Petronas since joining the oil company in 1983 as a process engineer. His roles included serving as CEO of the gas processing unit Petronas Gas Bhd, and as Petronas chief operating officer. He was appointed CEO in April 2015.

Wan Zulkiflee has led Petronas through challenging times, starting with the commodity price rout that began in the second half of 2014. He steered the company through the period by slashing capital expenditure and cutting jobs, while churning out profits to pay the Malaysian government hefty dividends.

In February, he said Petronas would pay a dividend of 24 billion ringgit ($5.6 billion) to the government this year. In 2019, Petronas paid a total of 54 billion ringgit to the government.

Wan Zulkiflee also led Petronas to partner with Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, to build a huge refinery and petrochemical refinery complex in the southern state of Johor near Singapore.

Malaysia Airlines, like its peers worldwide, is in dire straits because of the cessation of most international travel during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Like its counterpart in neighbouring Thailand, it has been losing money for years and the government says it will not rule out drastic action.

That could even include merging MAS with the budget airline AirAsia to “save” both of them, a senior minister said recently.

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