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SIA makes changes to top posts; seen as grooming next-gen leaders

Changes will also see new leaders at Scoot and SIA Engineering Company

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From April 1, senior vice-president (marketing planning) Tan Kai Ping (left), will be promoted to EVP (finance and strategy); EVP of commercial Mak Swee Wah (centre) will be EVP (operations); and Scoot CEO Lee Lik Hsin (right) will be promoted to EVP (commercial).

Singapore 

IN A move aimed at succession planning, Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced a management shuffle on Monday, which included promoting two airline veterans seen as potential frontrunners for the top job in the future.

From April 1, executive vice-president (EVP) of commercial Mak Swee Wah, 59, will assume the post of EVP (operations), putting him in charge of SIA's cabin crew, customer services and operations, engineering as well as flight operations divisions.

Lee Lik Hsin, chief executive officer (CEO) of low-cost carrier Scoot, will return to the SIA group and will be promoted to EVP (commercial).

Mr Lee, 49, will be responsible for the cargo, customer experience, marketing planning, and sales and marketing divisions, as well as the sales regions. His previous roles include helming budget carrier Tigerair from 2014 and later assuming his present role as chief of Scoot as SIA merged its two low-cost units in May 2016.

Campbell Wilson, senior vice-president (sales and marketing), who ran budget unit Scoot from inception until its merger with Tigerair, will return to Scoot as chief executive.

Senior vice-president (marketing planning) Tan Kai Ping, 47, will be promoted to EVP (finance and strategy) of SIA, where he will oversee the corporate planning and finance divisions.

Mr Mak, Mr Lee and Mr Tan will all report directly to CEO Goh Choon Phong. The new appointments will be effective from April 1.

Meanwhile, EVP (human resources and operations) Ng Chin Hwee, 59, will retire early from SIA on March 31, but join subsidiary SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) as CEO on April 1. Mr Ng is also currently a non-executive director on SIAEC's board.

SIAEC's current CEO, Png Kim Chiang, 61, will retire on April 1. He will also step down as a director of SIAEC on the same date, but continue as an adviser to the company.

Describing the management changes at SIA as overdue, independent analyst at Sobie Aviation, Brendan Sobie, said: "There's been a need to bring in two new people at EVP level for some time.

"These two new EVPs (Mr Lee and Mr Tan) signal potential replacements for when Mr Goh is ready to leave."

Mr Sobie added that he doesn't expect Mr Goh to leave anytime soon. "He will likely stay at least three more years."

Mr Goh, the SIA chief, assumed the role of CEO at the age of 47 in January 2011, taking the hot seat at a time when the flag carrier found itself facing keen competition from both Gulf carriers on long-haul routes and budget airlines on regional ones.

Over the years, he and his team have put in place various strategies to position the airline group for long-term growth, including building overseas hubs, new ancillary revenue streams, forging deeper alliances with other carriers and more recently, a three-year transformation programme aimed at lifting revenue, among other things.

In a press release issued to the Singapore Exchange, Mr Goh said: "The SIA Group has highly capable executives with deep organisational and industry expertise, who are able to step up and take on new responsibilities. With these appointments, we have further strengthened our management team and better positioned the group for the future."

SIA's fortified management team will likely have to contend with both short-term challenges and ongoing headwinds, such as depressed yields as a result of a highly competitive operating environment and most recently, travel demand slumping amid the global Covid-19 virus outbreak.

Mr Wilson's return to Scoot is also seen as timely, given that Scoot chalked up an operating loss for the financial year ended March 31, 2019, as well as for the nine months ended Dec 31, 2019.

Mr Scobie said even before the virus outbreak, Scoot's exposure to the China market - where the Chinese carriers are very aggressive - was weighing down its performance, while new routes transferred over from SilkAir are not yet performing well. Scoot had taken over 10 new points from SilkAir as at December last year, with another six Indonesian destinations to come from the regional wing's network between May and July 2020.

Shares in SIA closed at S$8.66 on Monday, gaining four cents.