Monday, 15 June 2020

Rex Express Chairman Lim Kim Hai likes to dish it out but does not respond well to even mild criticism

Grafton Airport in the Clarence Valley is predominately used by state authorities and local government. 

Rex Express is also the only commercial air passenger service into the Clarence Valley even if it is virtually only a skeleton service and, it is heavily subsidised by federal and state governments during the COVID-19 pandemic to the tune of at least $77.9 million.

ABC News, 16 October 2018
The executive chairman and largest single shareholder in Rex Express Holdings Ltd is Lim Kim Hai (left) and apparently at his instigation Rex is cutting Grafton Airport from its NSW routes from 3 July 2020 - allegedly on the grounds his feeling have been hurt.

This is the latest example of how this somewhat aggressive businessman responds to even the mildest of criticism of the company he heads.

The Daily Examiner, 13 June 2020, p.10:

Clarence Valley Council has called an extraordinary meeting to deal with the fallout from Rex’s shock decision to quit the region. 

In a report to be tabled at the meeting on Tuesday, council general manager Ashley Lindsay detailed correspondence he’d had with national airports manager for Regional Express, David Brooksby. 

“He advised that executive chairman Lim Kim Hai took great offence to Cr Novak calling on Rex to ‘pull their finger out’,” Mr Lindsay said. 

“Unless a public apology is provided by Cr Novak, he would not reconsider his decision for Rex to cease services to Grafton effective 3 July.” 

The move comes as Regional Express Airlines offered a little more on its decision to cancel the Grafton route with a message to councillors, the community and local media. 

“Council has chosen to discuss the Rex matter in open session and some councillors have voiced pejorative remarks about Rex with the full expectation that these remarks will be reported in the media,” the statement said. 

“As elected representatives, they need to know that their official statements will have consequences and they need to take full responsibility for these consequences. The community and the media should turn to these representatives for comments and their plans for the future.” 

The issue arose at the May council meeting when councillor Debrah Novak used strong language toward Rex while speaking against a motion to issue it a $8908 credit note for 2021. 

In response to those words, Rex announced it would cease services to Grafton from July 3. 

Ms Novak had since posted a statement via her Facebook page and spoken to media outlets, clarifying that her comments were underpinned with “no malice or contempt”. 

Ms Novak, whose post referred to other financial dealings and business decisions Rex has made in the recent past, suggested there was a cultural misunderstanding in part due to its foreign ownership. 

She said the term ‘pull your finger out’ was an “Australian colloquialism” that she had heard “most people use in my lifetime and in council”. 

“How locals or international people interpret what I say is not my responsibility and I will not be apologising.” 

Mr Lindsay in his report before the council said her comments in the previous meeting had fallen foul of council rules and the officer recommendation was for her – and the mayor on behalf of the council – to apologise to Rex and to Lim Kim Hai. 

“I have reviewed the recording of the meeting and I believe Cr Novak has breached Council’s Code of Meeting Practice during her debate on this item (6a.20.011),” he said. 

“Cr Novak’s commentary on REX and their board was contemptuous and in accordance with Clause 15.12 (c) of the Code of Meeting Practice Council can call on Cr Novak to “retract and apologise without reservation” to REX and in particular the apology should be to REX’s executive chairman Lim Kim Hai.” ......

A decision on the matter will be made in the meeting, at 1pm on June 16.

One has to supect the reason given for the airline's decision to withdraw services, when much harsher criticism was levelled at its business practices in The Australian newspaper on 27 May 2020:

"But the response did not satisfy Senator Sheldon, who wrote to ASIC chairman James Shipton requesting an investigation. He said the level of detail provided by Rex to the media could reasonably be expected to affect the share price. 

“Rex’s plans to expand into markets in direct competition with Qantas and Virgin, after having received a disproportionate share of government financial support, are inappropriate and exploitative,” wrote Senator Sheldon over the $54m paid to Rex out of a $100m regional aviation assistance fund. 

“Their failure to inform the ASX of these plans per the ASX listing rules flies in the face of Australian corporate standards. If Rex or any officer of Rex has contravened the Act, I further request that ASIC take appropriate enforcement action against them.”

The chairman does not appear to have overreacted to the NSW senator's comments as he has to the shire councillor's remark.

Lim Kim Hai is not adverse to hitting out at what he perhaps sees as easy targets and the following is a previous example of the Rex Express chairman's response to criticism:

Area News, excerpts from page one articles in 27 and 30 June 2012 newspaper

# "A VISITING cardiologist has threatened to abandon his Griffith clinic because of "arrogant and offensive" treatment by Regional Express (Rex). 

Dr Charles Thorburn, who has been travelling from Sydney for more than 20 years to conduct an outpatient clinic at Griffith hospital, was so incensed with the declining service of the Griffith-Sydney flights he wrote a complaint letter to Rex chairman Lim Kim Hai. 

But in an extraordinary response from the Singapore-based chairman, Dr Thorburn was questioned and ridiculed, in a letter critics have seized on as evidence of Rex's contempt for its customers. 

"If, as you say, you find the conditions unsatisfactory, why did you accept them in the first place?" the letter, written on instruction by Mr Kim Hai, read. 

"I would be curious to know if you would reimburse any of your patients who do not get well after seeing you?" 

The chairman's goading continued after Dr Thorburn asked for data on how often the Sydney-Griffith flights were delayed or cancelled. "We are not providing you with the statistics you are requesting for (sic)," he said. 

"Perhaps in the medical profession you are used to dispensing information on how long you make your patients wait or how often you misdiagnosed." 

He went on to say Rex was "still much better than all the airlines in Australia and most of the airlines in the world". 

The exchange comes at a time when a new airline is poised to break the company's monopoly stranglehold on the city, set to operate the Griffith-Melbourne leg dumped by Rex this month. 

An incredulous Dr Thorburn said he was now seriously considering pulling the pin on his long-standing Griffith outpatient clinic. "If the service does not improve, I really need to assess whether I will continue to fly down to Griffith," he said. 

"I found the letter I received arrogant and offensive and quite extraordinary." 

He has since written to Rex board members individually to demand an apology and express his disgust at the treatment. Dr Thorburn's original letter was prompted by a chaotic return flight from Griffith on May 25....... 

# "Local leaders have demanded Rex issue an immediate apology to a visiting cardiologist rebuked by the airline’s chairman during a public relations crash-landing last week. 

Leading Sydney cardiologist Dr Charles Thorburn has threatened to boycott Rex and end his 20-year relationship with Griffith after a valid complaint letter to the airline’s Singapore-based boss was met with an “arrogant and offensive” response.....


Wednesday, 10 June 2020

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