The decision of Thai Airways top management to appoint an Australian national as Vice President for sales stirred up a discussion as it breaks a tradition of the airline being managed by Thai nationals only.
The cash strapped carrier is undergoing a restructuring after losing money every left and right with one of their biggest issues being in sales, the department of the new hire.
Thai Airways is known for many things and professional management is not exactly one of these items on the list. The carrier has a history of purchasing aircraft of every variety from the smallest ATR to the Airbus A380. Mostly these purchases took places after management changes which more often than not are appointments through political connections. Word has it that these aircraft purchases also result in some sort of kickback for the parties involved. Considering the political situation and different powerhouses in Thailand it is of no surprise that under such conditions it’s very hard to turn the fortunes of the flag carrier around.
The Bangkok Post (access here) reported this week that the Thai Airways Board decided to hire an outsider and foreign national as Vice President of Sales operations.
The long-held tradition of Thai Airways International (THAI) being managed entirely by Thai nationals is about to change. The struggling flag carrier is about to appoint a foreign airline professional as a vice-president to address one of the weaknesses stalling its rehabilitation — sales.
The appointment of Australian Bryan Banston, originally from Melbourne and with more than 30 years’ experience in the airline industry, is imminent pending the finalisation of his remuneration package, insiders said. Appointing Mr Banston vice-president for sales at THAI is noteworthy primarily because he will break a taboo among Thai state enterprises, which do not normally have expats in executive positions.
Mr Banston, who previously served as vice-president for commercial operations for Australasia at Emirates, will be the first non-Thai to assume the executive post since the early 1980s, when a couple of Americans and Scandinavians held senior executive jobs at THAI.
This is probably the first competent decision leaving the Thai Airways headquarter in years. Actually appointing someone with industry experience and not a political appointee to manage an important department of the airline.
But this being Thailand it comes to no surprise that this is not good enough for some.
Questions were raised about the generous employment package being extended to Mr Banston, regarded as exorbitant by Thai nationals. According to guidelines recently approved by THAI’s board, the Australian executive will receive a basic maximum salary of 650,000 baht a month.
That is three times the level paid to a Thai executive of equivalent corporate seniority at the airline and even higher than that of the senior executive vice-president for commercial operations. He will be entitled to a monthly travel allowance of 70,000 baht, a housing allowance of 100,000 baht, four business-class tickets each for international and domestic travel on THAI per year, medical and and insurance coverage and other fringe benefits normally received by vice-presidents of the carrier.
There are questions if THAI could not find a capable Thai to do the job of the former Emirates executive but for less.
This is a typical Thai sentiment to try and get work done for as cheap as possible and as long as everyone on the top is paid off the actual quality of the work (or lack thereof) everyone keeps quiet. The demands for a Thai to do the job is typical as well. I experienced Thailand to be quite a racist country in many regards, something you only notice when you live there for some time.
The salary is not really excessive in my opinion. The comparison with local salaries of company executives is not relevant on many levels. For one, it’s common to pay Expats a bonus on top of the usual local standard. And let’s not forget the corruption factor that ends up being a large, invisible part of a locals remuneration.
Thai Airways situation must be dire and top management seems to have realized that they reached the point of ‘make it or break it’ and the times of letting nationalist pride slitter the airline into their certain death is over.
A second foreigner has been an advisor to the current President of Thai Airways and his contract has also been extended.
The forthcoming appointment has fuelled criticism within airline circles, as the company’s board quietly extended the employment of Wayne Pearce, a former chief executive of Oman Air, as international adviser to THAI president Charamporn Jotikasthira for another six months from the end of last year despite disagreement expressed by cabinet ministers when the appointment first took place.
In the case of Mr Wayne, THAI has paid a 10.6 million baht fee for the first six-month stint as commerce and marketing adviser.
The THAI president has been keen to tap foreign airline professionals’ expertise to help reviving the cash-strapped airline which he committed to turn around this year after suffered 18.1 billion baht in net losses in the first nine months of last year.
“Give the two expats a try to see if they can make a worthwhile contribution to the course of salvaging the airline,” a senior THAI executive said on the condition of anonymity.
This shows that the company insiders really know how bad the situation is. No surprise considering it has been managed over years through a cesspool of corruption and incompetence. How an airline can lose such amounts of money with the current fuel prices is beyond me.
This decision was overdue. It’s clear that the people who have so far been appointed to the Thai Board of Management were primarily interested in filling their own pockets and letting the rest of the country, everyone who has some social standing and title fly for free while the paying passengers were neglected.
While I’m all but supportive of the military junta which holds the power now, one thing they did right was making clean house at Thai Airways. The current President seems to have the willpower to turn things around.