Ronald Lam Cathay
Lam is also chairman of Cathay’s budget carrier HK Express. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Hong Kong: Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. named customer chief Ronald Lam as its new CEO to replace Augustus Tang.

Lam, 50, will take over on January 1, Cathay said in a statement Wednesday. He faces the challenge of leading the 76-year-old carrier out of the mire caused by Covid travel restrictions, which plunged it into crisis and sparked a HK$39 billion ($5 billion) recapitalization backed by the Hong Kong government.

Cathay’s announcement confirmed an earlier Bloomberg News report on Lam’s appointment as CEO.

Lam joined Cathay as a trainee in 1996 and rose up the ranks to become joint-second in command, serving as chief customer and commercial officer, overseeing the bulk of the airline’s commercial and revenue-generating activities. He is also chairman of Cathay’s budget carrier HK Express.

“Lam is the obvious choice given his experience and what will be required to successfully navigate Cathay Pacific in the post-pandemic era and improve the group’s long-term position,” Singapore-based aviation consultant Brendan Sobie said.

In the depths of the pandemic, Cathay was only operating at about 2 per cent of its usual passenger capacity due to Hong Kong’s strict curbs on travel, including mandatory hotel quarantine of as long as 21 days. The government has recently eased those rules, leading to a jump in air travel, though Cathay is still operating at about only 16 per cent of pre-Covid levels, compared with 73 per cent for regional rival Singapore Airlines Ltd. Cathay has lost more than HK$33 billion since early 2020.

“This will not be an easy job for Lam by any imagination,” Sobie said. “But Cathay Pacific has a very strong brand and very strong shareholders so it will eventually emerge from the challenges of the last few years.”

The appointment of Ronald Lam as CEO is likely to maintain Cathay’s focus on customer experience as it increases capacity into 2023, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Eric Zhu said. In 2019, Lam led the takeover and integration of HK Express and he now oversees the airline’s Covid recovery taskforce. He also devised an e-commerce pivot to promote non-airline activities under a single Cathay brand.

Lavinia Lau succeeds Lam as chief customer and commercial officer.