SIA CEO conferred coveted business award for transforming the airline; first SEA recipient

(From second, left) Mr Stephen Lee, Mr J.Y Pillay and Mr Goh Choon Phong at the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU) gala dinner in New York.
(From second, left) Mr Stephen Lee, Mr J.Y Pillay and Mr Goh Choon Phong at the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU) gala dinner in New York.PHOTO: SINGAPORE AIRLINES

Singapore Airlines (SIA) chief executive officer, Mr Goh Choon Phong, has received a much-coveted award for transforming the airline to better compete in an increasingly tough environment.

He was conferred the 2016 Dwight D. Eisenhower Global Innovation Award by the United States-based Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU) at a gala dinner in New York on Monday (Dec 5) night - the first time a BCIU award has been presented to a recipient from South-East Asia.

In honouring him, the non-profit organisation said Mr Goh "is a visionary whose transformational leadership has elevated and energised both the company's brand as well as its people".

BCIU president, Mr Peter Tichansky, said: "Goh Choon Phong, characteristic of BCIU's Eisenhower Honorees, is an exemplary leader who has changed his industry through the courage of his convictions."

Faced with growing threats from full-service airlines in the premium business, and budget carriers in the regional space, SIA launched its own mid- and long-haul budget carrier, Scoot, which started flying in 2012.

During Mr Goh's six-year tenure, SIA has also struck many partnerships with other full-service airlines like Lufthansa, to expand its global reach and network.

The Singapore carrier also has a 49 per cent stake in New Delhi-based Vistara which launched its first flight in January 2015.

Airline veteran, Mr J.Y. Pillay, who also attended the event in New York, said he first met Mr Goh 25 years when he was SIA chairman and the young Goh appointed as his staff assistant - a position typically reserved for promising young officers.

In introducing Mr Goh at the awards dinner, Mr Pillay said: "The assignment was for a year, presumably because by the end of it, the poor fellow would be too exhausted to continue. A baptism of fire."

Even after he left SIA, Mr Goh kept in touch, till this day.

Mr Pillay said: "I must confess that in those early days I was not sharp enough, or perspicacious enough, to realise that he had a CEO's baton in his briefcase. But as the years rolled by, I began to sense that Choon Phong was maturing fast, and there was a hint of greater things to come."

Past BCIU recipients include football legend Pelé, Mr Ratan Tata from India's Tata Trusts, and chairman /chief executive officer of General Electric, Mr Jeffrey Immelt.

Accepting the honour on behalf of SIA's 25,000 employees worldwide, Mr Goh said: "This award is genuinely about much more than any one individual... The perseverance of our staff, combined with their shared enthusiasm and constant desire to enhance the travel experience of our customers, makes this an award for all our employees, rather than just for me."

The aviation industry is "extremely challenging" but SIA has never been afraid of competition, he declared.

"We do not have a right to exist, and must always ensure that we give people a good reason to fly on us," Mr Goh said.