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Opinion & Analysis

Board support key to KQ turnaround

From left: Kenya Airways CEO Sebastian Mikosz, chairman Michael Joseph and board advisor Mbuvi Ngunze. PHOTO | FILE
From left: Kenya Airways CEO Sebastian Mikosz, chairman Michael Joseph and board advisor Mbuvi Ngunze. PHOTO | FILE  

OTP in airline-speak means on time performance. Kenya Airways (KQ) #ticker:KQ has been operating on a fairly good OTP for departures and arrivals over the last three months of my frequent regional usage within the East African Community circuit.

I mentioned this to the flight purser on my KQ flight from Nairobi to Kigali via Bujumbura a couple of weeks ago. We were chatting while parked on the tarmac on a brief stopover at the dusty pink coloured Bujumbura airport.

He was amazingly sanguine about KQ’s future, something I had not seen in a long time as I often chat with the staff on the flights who have been typically morose following the poor financial fortunes of the airline in the recent past.

So Juma, as I’ve chosen to call him for now, explained that the airline has set an OTP target for departure as 15 minutes before the scheduled time so that they can make allowances for delays caused by flight engineering or operations.

Out of eight flights in four weeks I only suffered one delay for an Entebbe to Nairobi flight and was informed of the same via a text message as I left for the airport.

Juma mentioned that staff morale is climbing following retrenchments of about 150 last year. Why, I asked? He said that staff were getting incentives for ticket sales, and quite clearly for on-board duty-free sales given the renewed vigour that I have observed cabin crew flogging those overpriced items lately.

“All our pilots are Kenyans,” he said chest bursting with a pride that almost made the buttons of his red blazer pop off as he pointed out another KQ plane that had just landed from Kigali en route to Nairobi via Bujumbura. “Can you see how busy we are, we have two planes on the tarmac of a foreign airport simultaneously!’’

I shared his infectious enthusiasm. KQ had finally reported an operating profit of Sh897 million in the financial year ending March 2017. This was compared to the operating loss of Sh4 billion the previous financial year.

Clearly something had started to fundamentally change in KQ even before the June 2017 appointment of the new managing director Sebastian Mikosz, an acclaimed turnaround expert.

Unfortunately for Mr Mikosz, disgruntled staff leaked a memo last week revealing the appointment of five senior expatriate managers.

At a hastily convened press briefing following the contents of the memo’s publication in mainstream media, Mr Mikosz seemed to be at pains to say how long the five managers, all from Poland and former work colleagues of his at his last employer Lot Airlines, would be staying in Kenya.

While explaining what looks like an OTP (Only Through Poles) turnaround strategy he told the media that they were initially hired for three months.

I admire the five senior managers who would quit full-time paying jobs at a recently turned-around airline in a fast-growing European economy to take up a short-term contract in a piddling, election bickering East African backwater.

In keeping with good corporate governance, his chairman Michael Joseph stepped in to take one for the team.

“I was involved, together with the board, the HR members of the Board, on the decision to support Sebastian in bringing this team here, I personally approved it. It was because those guys, Sebastian knows those guys expertise and that they can hit the ground running. They are not here to take anybody’s jobs; they are here to provide Sebastian with the knowledge and information he needs to turn around the airline.”

It’s great that the board chairman (himself a former expatriate – how’s that for visuals?) quickly stepped up to provide much needed support for the managing director on an emotive issue of staff at a national flag carrier.

Mr Mikosz will need a lot of such support especially when some disgruntled staff will continue to use inappropriate means to embarrass him such as leaked memos to the media.

There will certainly be significant internal resistance to both him and his “pentagon” as they execute the painful changes that are required to turn around the company. As a rabidly proud Kenyan, I support what the board and management are doing to restore the pride in the Pride of Africa.

I do, however, wish that they would be sensitive to the not-so-subtle messaging that adopting an “OTP strategy” demonstrates: ‘We couldn’t find other nationals, let alone Kenyans, to do what needs to be done.’

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