What do Transformers, airliners and Bob Dylan have in common? More than you might think, writes SR Asia editor Sean Mooney
“What the nervous system is to the body, the brand is to a healthy organisation.” So said Terry Tyrell, ex-graphic designer and now chairman of global agency Brand Union, in 2008.
Back then, the idea that a major airline would ‘lose’ an entire plane without a trace and then have one shot out of the sky a few months later would have been as believable as the plot of that most implausible of films The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which was released the same year.
Fast forward a few million frames to 2014 and the cinematic equivalent of what we are now witnessing with Malaysia Airlines is one of this year’s big-screen blockbusters, Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Indeed, transformation is exactly what the airline is now undergoing in an effort to avoid extinction.
After the MH370 and MH17 incidents, talk in South East Asian aviation circles was all about how the Malaysian government’s approach to the national carrier was key to the airline’s survival.
Initially, both the airline and the government had to deal with very public speculation that Malaysia Airlines itself was targeted in one or both of the disasters.
As the head of insurance at a major Asian airline told me, two fatal flights within four months is not good for business.
Now Malaysia Airlines faces the long-term task of rebuilding the brand from the ground up, with the government’s strategic investment arm and the airline’s majority stakeholder Khazanah Nasional, which owns almost 70% of the carrier, moving to purchase all remaining shares.
De-listing from the Malaysian stock exchange and a complete review and restructure of the debt-ridden airline are the next steps.
Just as rebuilding has been the subject of much discussion within the region’s risk management community, so has the importance of airlines ensuring that they monitor and assess risks on a daily basis, especially when deciding whether or not to fly over conflict zones.
As the chairman of the Malaysian Association of Risk and Insurance Management Mohamad Bin Mohd Zain told me just after the loss of flight MH17: “From a risk control perspective, the carrier and the Malaysian government may want to review flying over airspace within an armed conflict area, which may increase the cost of operation due to a longer route.” He added that, as a passenger, he always reviewed the carrier’s safety track record before boarding a plane. There’s no reason to think that he’s the only one to be doing so.
Beyond the personal safety side of the equation, there are many who are widening their scope of analysis to take in the domestic political (and therefore business) implications of the Malaysia Airlines incidents.
But, as StrategicRISK has reported in the past, Malaysian culture can often be disapproving of negative comments made about senior corporate or government figures (often one in the same) or the weaknesses of a company’s systems and procedures.
Some Malaysia-based risk professionals have suggested that the MH370 and MH17 tragedies have come on top of societal tensions and increasing anxiety about the strength of the Malaysian economy.
Moving beyond Malaysia’s borders, an intriguing possibility was put to me recently by the President of the International Council for Central and East European Studies and professor at the University of Sydney’s Department of Government and International Relations, Graeme Gill.
He believes that the MH17 disaster could catalyse the creation of an alternative world system based on the Russia-China axis working in opposition to the West. Indeed, Western states (which believe that pro-Russia rebels brought down the plane using a missile supplied by Russia) have recently imposed wider sanctions on the Russian economy.
Consider the fact that both Russia and China are vehemently opposed to what both see as America’s quest for global hegemony, and that neither has criticised the other’s recent territory ‘grabs’ in the Crimea, Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea. As Gill points out, criticism of Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis has been notably muted from much of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Add to that the recent establishment of a new BRICs international development fund that could rival the World Bank, and it’s clear that, as an ancient Bob Dylan still attempts to sing on occasion, the times they are a-changin’.