“In reality there is, perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride…”
– Benjamin Franklin
You’re not a Malaysian, and you’re certainly not a patriotic Malaysian, if you don’t have pride.
More specifically, pride in the national carrier: Malaysia Airlines (MAS).
This past week every man and his dog gave their take on why MAS is so depleted (of money and ideas), how best to save the moribund national airline and how, as Malaysians, we must always maintain its pride.
Many Malaysians are indoctrinated from young with the belief the world owes them a living. Many thus grow up with a sense of self-entitlement.
Unfortunately this has seeped into the corporate culture, and that’s the problem.
There are essentially two kinds of pride.
There is the authentic pride, the inner discipline that guides and motivates a person or a company to strive beyond the ordinary. Instead of inculcating and instilling pride associated with achievement and accomplishment, Malaysia has chosen hubristic pride.
Hubris is the Greek word for foolish pride.
Scientists have actually done studies on people with tendencies toward one or the other form of pride. They found hubristic people to be narcissistic, who view success as predetermined.
Malaysia’s ex-premier has jumped on the Pride bandwagon, too. Here he is talking about MAS and pride – in one sentence, as if both go hand in hand.
He argued that, since everyone else has a national airline, why not Malaysia? Applying this logic, if most ordinary folks are eating rice, why does he choose to eat quinoa then?
It’s a bit rich coming from someone who, when he was holding top office, was hardly ever seen on board a MAS aircraft, be it for work or pleasure. Then he traversed the globe on the government’s Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ320).
Of course, that was quite understandable. How else could he have gone to Hawaii to play golf with President Obama when MAS doesn’t fly anywhere near the Aloha State?
Alas, after he lost power (and with it the privilege to ride the private jet) in May last year, the ex-premier flew to Langkawi for a vacation in June 2018 on a MAS plane.
In fact, he drew a lot of flak, before he was chucked out of office, when he was photographed on board an AirAsia plane (see below) that was specially painted in the colours of his party, complete with its campaign slogan.
Pride is the mother of arrogance
Rather unsurprisingly, many Malaysians agree with the former premier. They say pride is the reason MAS ought to be kept, even if it clearly is no longer a source of pride for Malaysia.
In a letter to a local newspaper, a prominent frequent flyer and “loyal customer” regaled in nauseating nostalgia, as he recalled the airline’s glorious past.
He advised MAS not to waste time with “external experts” and cited the carrier’s improved on-time performance, a rise in customer satisfaction and even an award for Best Airline in Asia given recently in Berlin as reasons to keep faith with the perennially loss-making company.
This call to ignore outside voices isn’t new.
In a message to 13,000 of the airline’s workers on 9 March, MAS’s CEO asked: “who are the outsiders to say that we have not done any good for the country?”
Lest he forgets, MAS is fully funded by the sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, with Malaysian taxpayers’ money.
The so-called “outsiders” he referred to are fellow Malaysians entitled to question the management as public funds are used to pay for MAS’s operations and its workers, including the CEO’s salary.
To be clear, our view is simple, that MAS in its current financial condition is not a viable company. There are three options: (i) shut it, (ii) divest it, and (iii) creative destruction.
Another letter, penned by an ex-parliamentarian with an aerospace engineering degree from a Malaysian university, figured the solution is straightforward: review wastage and other leakages and have someone with the guts to pull it off.
However, the next two opinion pieces were the most entertaining.
In the first instance, a young, aspiring socialist politician wanted Khazanah, the owner of MAS, to allocate a third of the airline’s board to unions. And he concluded that MAS’s fate shouldn’t only be determined by figures i.e. profits.
The second, by an editor-in-chief who claimed to have 30 years of experience in the aviation industry, went one better.
In making his (bizarre) case there’s no airline in the world that makes money purely from operations, he wrote that Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) success is because the company owns Changi Airport!
For the record, SIA doesn’t own Changi Airport.
Thankfully, not all Malaysians are daft. There were some who appreciated and saw the bigger picture.
A veteran journalist who once ran the national news agency, Azman Ujang came closest to understanding what it’s all about. He reckoned, if you read between the lines, that Malaysians have too much pride. Read his comments here.
What happens next?
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s finance minister has put the debate to bed when he proclaimed: “we are not going to close down Malaysia Airlines”.
Irrespective of what Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has said, about the possibility of terminating MAS, there is not a cat in hell’s chance of this happening.
There are several reasons for this.
First, even if the PM wants to do it – he is the first and only one in the cabinet who has had the guts to call a spade a spade – collectively there is no political will within the government to bite the bullet.
Additionally, there are far too many around the PM who are whispering into his ears, coaxing him to consider the plight of workers, the economic ramifications (for those who believe MAS has the multiplier impact) and finally, that pestilent P word: Pride.
Second, Malaysians by and large celebrate mediocrity, not meritocracy.
When MAS reportedly reduced its losses for 2018 its CEO was feted rather than frowned upon. Who cares about improvement in revenue average seat per kilometre (RASK)? Tell us the airline’s yield and what its actual losses were, compared to the MYR812 million lost in 2017!
A Malaysian minister even had the temerity to describe the airline as world class!
How can MAS be world class when it isn’t head of the class at home in Malaysia? Like it or not, that honour belongs to AirAsia!
Third, MAS is a microcosm of all that has gone awry in Malaysia today. This coalition government came into power by trumpeting accountability and transparency, amongst other sexy slogans.
Yet when push comes to shove, who has the courage and gumption to make the right call in the best interest of the MAS workers and the common people who pay for the airline’s upkeep?
Who will convince Malaysians to swallow the bitter pill, together with their misplaced pride, for a better and brighter future?
By extending a financial lifeline to MAS, as the finance minister has pledged, the government has blown a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally rid itself of a pernicious problem.
Worst, it is sending the wrong message to Malaysia’s young – that it’s fine to be mediocre, as long as you have (hubristic) pride.