in excerpts of his new autobiography that appeared in the South China Morning Post, Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok said he witnessed the worst bickering between the Singapore and Malaysian government-nominated directors at the airline.
But he also praised the Singaporean members of the board and management, whom he said were efficient and also understood the economics of the airline industry.
Kuok had particular praise for Singapore board member Joe YM Pillay, whom he said had “tremendous intellect that had no superior in the Singapore/Malaysia region”.
He recalled the split between the two Airlines was felt as mourning between the two parties involved, but the Singaporeans were quick to realise that the Malaysian domestic routes were profit-making, “but looking into the future, they could not see such air travel as a big-scale business,” he said.
He said with Singapore’s international airport, the government there could see the growing international traffic was the jewel in the crown of the airline industry in the region.
“So, the Singapore government felt it would be useful to break Malaysia-Singapore Airlines into two and let each country go its own way,” Kuok said, adding that board meetings had already been acrimonious as it was.
“I was acting as referee, but I was seeing the poor Malaysian directors slaughtered at every meeting because the Singapore directors had minds as sharp as razors.”
“If one side raised a point and asked for a resolution to be passed, the other side would object. Each side tried to peel off the skin to see what hidden agenda existed under that resolution,” he said of the airline which was established in 1966, one year after Singapore left the federation of Malaysia.
The excerpts are from his new book “Robert Kuok, A Memoir”, which hit the shelves in Hong Kong and Singapore today. The Malaysian release is set for Dec 1.
Kuok said following his resignation as chairman of MSA, the two governments agreed to have two co-chairmen, one from each country.
“They could not have asked for a more classic mongoose and cobra arrangement.
“The Malaysian government chose Ismail Ali, then Bank Negara governor, while the Singapore side picked Pillay,” he said.
Kuok said what the two co-chairmen presided over eventually, was like a funeral, as MSA reached the end of the road with the split into two separate airlines – Malaysian Airlines System (MAS) and Singapore Airlines (SIA).
You couldn’t have had worse bickering than between the Singapore and Malaysian government-nominated directors, he said.
“If one side (Malaysia or Singapore) raised a point and asked for a resolution to be passed, the other side would object. Each side tried to peel off the skin to see what hidden agenda existed under that resolution,” he said of the airline which was established in 1966, one year after Singapore left the federation of Malaysia.