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Sunday, Apr 05, 2020

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific weighing outside talent in hunt for new chief financial officer, sources say

Hong Kong’s leading airline will replace Martin Murray, who has been with Swire Group for 25 years, people familiar with the matter say.

The replacement comes as the industry grapples with a global slowdown in travel and after top management was reshuffled last year.

Cathay Pacific is seeking a replacement for its long-standing finance chief Martin Murray, two sources have said, and in a rare move is considering external candidates for the role.

Headhunting firm Korn Ferry has already started the appointment search, according to people familiar with the matter. The final choice could mark the first time a chief financial officer (CFO) has been installed from outside the airline or from majority shareholder Swire Group.

Finding Murray’s replacement comes as Hong Kong’s flagship airline, the crown jewel in the group’s portfolio, battles significant financial challenges brought on by the global slowdown in travel because of the deadly Covid-19 outbreak.

The airline is due to unveil its full results for 2019 on Wednesday. Analysts expect the company to record a small second-half loss but maintain a profit for the full year, despite the drop in tourism the city suffered due to anti-government protests that erupted last summer and continued into 2020.

A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman declined to comment on the CFO change.

However, a well-placed source said seeking an outsider for the role was “rare” and “highly unusual”.

“I think any major management changes at this time will definitely be a challenge considering the circumstances,” Bocom International analyst Luya You said. “Cathay is going through one of the toughest years in its history, so having someone steady at the helm is more of a necessity, not a perk.

The transport analyst added: “However since the outlook ahead is still so uncertain, there could be benefits to late-cycle management changes as well. Recruitment of outside talent could bring new perspectives as always.”

The airline already underwent a major shake-up of its top talent last year with the premature departure of chief executive officer Rupert Hogg, chief customer and commercial officer Paul Loo Kar-pui and the retirement of chairman John Slosar after China’s aviation regulator sought changes in management over a perceived inadequate response to staff involvement in the protests.

Augustus Tang Kin-wing replaced Hogg as CEO, Ronald Lam Sui-por assumed Loo’s role and Patrick Healy was made chairman.

According to a company source, Murray was due to be replaced last year with Sean Pelling, the general manager for finance and performance who has been with the parent company since 2007, according to his LinkedIn profile. Murray could ultimately be moved to a new finance role within Swire Group.

Murray joined the group in January 1995 and worked across the company in a variety of finance roles before moving to Cathay Pacific as its top financial executive in 2011.

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