Editorial Opinion

Job description for PIA CEO and what it has to do with aviation?

Wing Commander Kamran Anjum is not new to controversy as his photo holding a gun next to PIA spokesperson Mashood Tajwar is viral content on social media.

“Look! Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Superman”. For those who recollect cartoons before the movie series of the mid-80s or were avid fans of DC comics, they must remember this. It would invariably be followed by “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!” these qualities exemplified the strongest man on earth from planet Krypton. Whose only weakness was the mineral “Kryptonite” found only on his home planet?

I presume these are the qualities the honourable judges of the Supreme Court are searching for in a CEO for the National Flag carrier.
As the saying goes, “…inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist…” The reality check here is that “Superman” despite being named a -man was not human; he came from a utopian planet that was destroyed by the war waged between good and evil. He was the last surviving member of their ruling elite or order of people who exemplified all the good in the universe. Emphasis on the last surviving member, thereby meaning that superman is one of a kind and they don’t make them anymore.

Bernd Hildenbrand, who joined PIA as COO and acting CEO with former PM Nawaz Sharif at the inauguration of PIA Premier on 14th of August.

The turnaround of the former pride of the nation, PIA, is nothing short of a conundrum for experts. And the experimenting is taking a heavy toll especially without continuity in management. What is interesting is that successive government post – PPP all have given their best shot at putting theory to practice. A Captain of a Boeing 777 ended up almost selling it to a brotherly Muslim Airline, a retired Air Chief Marshal from the PAF couldn’t stomach the interventionism and left sick in quarters, a Foreign aviation expert ending up donating a derelict Airbus A310 to museum in his home country, a business tycoon and from one of the oldest business houses simply found decision making too controversial and left, retired PIA executives brought in as local expertise simply found themselves “fish out of water” in its corporate culture which had deteriorated beyond recognition and toxic. All these efforts were made to give the craziness that makes PIA a sense of direction especially under pressure from the IMF and other lending agencies to bring the house in order for state-owned enterprises.

PIA former CEO Bernd Hildenbrand presenting the copy of Humsafar magazine to then-chairman PIA late Azam Saigol.

The Nawaz Government in its end days found PIACL its first full-time Chief Executive in the form of Dr Musharraf Rasool Cyan, a PhD from Georgia University and an ex-bureaucrat turned technocrat. A man who had an impeccable reputation; he remained a shining star of a performer from his school days at Lawrence College to the civil service. He promised to put the airline on a practical track to recovery and he delivered with his Business Plan. However, the promised end or a return to its former glory could not be realized overnight. His unyielding persistence and perseverance could only deliver in as much as actually get the focus back on route performance, which was previously done on the whims and fancies of the powerful. He couldn’t get the costing structure fixed which was lopsided and simply apportioned costs to all routes based on distance, regardless where the route incurred the cost or not.

Musharraf Rasool Cyan was the first CEO hired for PIA through a process where prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi actually interviewed all the candidates to finalise his name,

The search for the prophesized Superman then led the PTI government which thought PIA lacked the discipline to the Air Force. They had the qualities of Superman, they were strong, they were tough and had a track record of actions to back their words. Matters of discipline were set in a year, the rowdiness, the pushing, the shoving; the firebrand speeches were all gone. The employees started to focus on work again and PIA was put en route to recovery.

PIA CEO Air Marshal Arshad Malik was not an ordinary candidate as he had the right connections at the right places to get a tailor-made job description that can only get him hired. But even he is facing the same situation.

These supermen could in as much deliver on their past experience but they didn’t know what hit them as they were accustomed to the disciplined lot of the Air Force, where orders were readily taken, accepted and executed. They inched forward at a snail pace, the trust factor so akin to the military exposed them to dangers not thought through before. Follies were observed right under their noses in Promotion Boards and were discovered too late to be rectified. Their swagger was used against them.

Nayyar Hayat who is a true survivor, CEOs come and go, chairmen get replaced but he is still there doing what he is best at.

The brew and the plot to pin the Air Marshal down grew thicker with time. The politically motivated unions were losing control of the staff base, political parties influence the policies in the airline dwindled and the corrupt mafias’ income streams were affected. No more leasing engines at exorbitant prices or ghost employees. The decorated soldiers too hit a pitfall and no sooner did they learn the ropes, the rub was pulled underneath them.

Musharraf Rasool Cyan and Air Marshal Arshad Malik both dubbed as the victims of judicial activism.

The moral of the story “…to err is human and to forgive divine…” with the best of intents two successive managements failed to deliver on the promise both champions in their own right. The quagmire that is PIA and the culture which is ever so toxic even superman himself would have trouble finding his way about let alone stand tall surrounded by boulders of kryptonite.

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