Tigerair adapts to the Scoot way of doing things

Mr Lee, CEO of Budget Aviation Holdings which operates Scoot and Tigerair, with cabin crew (from far left) Katie An, Cherie Neo, Nickii Ang and Michelle Yang at the company's office in Changi Airport. Mr Lee's focus is now on bringing together 1,800
Mr Lee, CEO of Budget Aviation Holdings which operates Scoot and Tigerair, with cabin crew (from far left) Katie An, Cherie Neo, Nickii Ang and Michelle Yang at the company's office in Changi Airport. Mr Lee's focus is now on bringing together 1,800 staff from both airlines.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

CEO of new firm operating both airlines takes lead with new attire to signal change in mindset and work culture

Jeans, polo T-shirts and sneakers are now standard office attire while his white long-sleeved shirts "grow mildew in the closet", quips the new chief executive of budget airlines Scoot and Tigerair.

It is but one manifestation of a role change for Mr Lee Lik Hsin, who went from being CEO of Tigerair to heading a new company that operates both Tigerair and Scoot.

This was after Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced in May that a new entity - Budget Aviation Holdings - had been set up to house and run its two budget carriers, with Mr Lee, 45, at the helm.

The key focus for him is to bring together two groups of people - about 1,800 staff in all - who do not necessarily share the same mindset and work culture.

Scoot, which appeals mainly to young travellers and professionals, exudes a "fun" and "relaxed" persona. In contrast, Tigerair is "traditional corporate", Mr Lee told The Straits Times in an hour-long interview on Tuesday.

A FUN WAY TO FLY

With both airlines coming together, Tigerair cabin crew can now literally let their hair down - as long as it is in a ponytail for safety reasons - paint their nails in their choice colours and dye their hair as they wish.

MR LEE LIK HSIN, who helms a new company that operates both Tigerair and Scoot.

The challenge is for Tigerair staff, himself included, to adapt to the Scoot way of doing things.

Hence the jeans and polo T-shirts he is now "quite comfortable with", Mr Lee said.

"The culture of the company (Scoot) - the freedom to express oneself - is something that the (SIA) group wholeheartedly supports and endorses. So as far as I'm concerned, there's no question that I should adopt and continue to maintain, and even bring this culture from strength to strength."

It is clearly a key task for Mr Lee, who is going through a sensitive phase of transition as the two carriers merge into one operating entity.

He has to win the confidence of Scoot staff, some of who were reportedly upset when he was named CEO of the new firm instead of Scoot's former chief Campbell Wilson, who launched the airline in 2012.

Mr Wilson returns to the parent carrier later this month as acting senior vice-president (sales and marketing). His exit in May prompted two of Scoot's key executives - chief commercial officer Steven Greenway and head of ground services Benson Tan - to quit.

Mr Lee is philosophical about it. "When there's a (new) senior appointment, there's a period of getting to know the person so that's where we are now... Given Campbell's tenure, you would expect that staff are familiar and comfortable with him and his style.

"I hope that I will manage this well and eventually gain the trust of my fellow colleagues," he said.

The integration of any two organisations is always a challenge, said Mr Priveen Raj Naidu, founder and group chief executive of Rockstar Solutions, a corporate culture and branding agency.

"People naturally experience fear and vulnerability. Transparency and intent are therefore the two most critical components that the CEO must showcase through this highly sensitive period."

Mr Lee said he is keen to have Tigerair take on board some of Scoot's vibes. For travellers, it means flights with games on board as well as cabin crew that occasionally break into song and dance and dress up to commemorate special events and festivals.

"With both airlines coming together, Tigerair cabin crew can now literally let their hair down - as long as it is in a ponytail for safety reasons - paint their nails in their choice colours and dye their hair as they wish," he said with a smile.

Before, hair had to be pinned up and nails and hair coloured in approved shades - more in line with the SIA way.

As part of the integration, both carriers work closely to plan flights and schedules to grow connecting traffic through Changi Airport and ultimately boost the strength of the SIA group.

Even as Scoot and Tigerair maintain their separate brands and flying licences, office functions, including human resource, finance and administration, have been integrated.

Said Mr Lee: "Learning to understand each other, working with each other, coming together as a single team with a unified set of values and objectives - I will be frank and say it is not something that can be done overnight but we know it needs to be done."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Tigerair adapts to the Scoot way of doing things'. Print Edition | Subscribe