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Somkid takes on history at THAI

October 4, 2001

As paymaster of Thai Airways International, Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak started forming the airline's new board of directors with four people - the permanent secretary for finance, the permanent secretary for transport, a representative from the Air Force and the governor of the Airports Authority of Thailand.

As a nucleus for the board this sounds logical enough, and at the least would maintain tradition at the airline, which has been closely intertwined with these four bodies. Earlier Somkid had spent 10 days thinking about how he could restore credibility to the management of THAI, which has been in disarray because of bitter infighting and political intervention.

Last month the entire board and its president were sacked by the government in the most dramatic shakeup in the airline's history after the conflict had spun out of control.

On Tuesday, Somkid handed over the list of board candidates to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra for endorsement. But Somkid also went further, seeking to restructure the management and downsize the board at the same time. Under his proposal, the size of the board would be cut from 15 to 11 directors so that it could make decisions more quickly.

The airline, which is 93-per cent owned by the Finance Ministry, is scheduled to hold a shareholders' meeting tomorrow to select the new board. Afterward the board will pick its chairman and appoint a new president.

While working on the list, Somkid got first-hand experience with the archaic practices of the airline, which traditionally has been used to reward top bureaucrats with board appointments even though these bureaucrats might have had no knowledge or experience whatsoever in the commercial airline industry.

Somkid is still keeping his list of candidates secret, yet it has been reported that some old faces were destined to make a comeback. Chai-anan Samudavanija, the former chairman, is reportedly on the list. Then there is Virabongsa Ramangkura, the economic adviser to the prime minister, who has emerged as a potential candidate for the airline's chairmanship.

Thanong Bidaya, the man for all seasons in the Thaksin government, is apparently still on the list, followed by Pote Videj, the managing director of CS First Boston. The list remains tentative as the prime minister will make the final decision.

Tasnai Sudasna Na Ayudhya, executive vice president of THAI, has been tipped to take over as president. He should make the list of the board if he eventually makes it to the helm.

After the new management is picked, the new board should immediately start working hard to put the airline back on track. Apart from weathering the global economic slowdown, which has hit the airline industry hard, it will also need to work on its privatisation plan and find a strategic partner.

The good, old days of THAI are gone. The new management and president will face the tough task of not only improving the bottom line of the airline but also restoring its credibility.

Thanong Khanthong



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