His passing away was as low-key and unassuming as his personality. Many who knew Raghu Menon, former Chairman and Managing Director of Air India, were unaware of his demise, and got to know days after his last rites were performed.
They were, however, unanimous in praising this dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat; in remembering his warmth and down-to-earth personality. Menon, who passed away earlier this month, was 66. N Zaidi, former Chief Election Commissioner who was Menon’s colleague in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, recalled, “He was a very friendly and caring person, and always ready to help,” adding that Menon had bright ideas and wanted to follow the correct path.
V Subramanian, who worked with Menon in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, added that his former colleague had the ability to listen to all sides before arriving at a decision.
Ravi S Menon, Executive Director, Air Works met Menon briefly. He recalls: “In the short span of time he came across as an intent listener, keen on fully understanding everything that was communicated to him.”
The highlight of Menon’s career was his turbulent stint with Air India. Menon, a 1974-batch, Nagaland-cadre officer of the Indian Administrative Service was at the helm when the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines took place in 2007. He took over from V Thulasidas in early 2008, barely seven months after the merger was formalised. Before this, he was Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
It was Menon who tackled the difficulties that arose in the initial months of the merger. These difficulties, though to a limited extent, are still haunting the airline.
“Menon laid down the guidelines for network integration for Air India, Indian Airlines and Alliance Air. All these airlines were flying on the same routes. The idea of the merger was to have synergy. Achieving network integration was not easy as there were vested interests in each airline and they did not want to give up their turf. He used the carrot and stick policy to achieve the objective,” said a senior Air India official who retired recently after over three decades of service. The officer had worked closely with Menon.
What triggered Menon’s exit barely 14 months after he took over at the top in Air India remains a mystery. Senior officials say that it was unusual for a government in election mode to remove a top bureaucrat (Menon was removed as the process for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections was underway).
His early exit also makes many wonder whether the current fate of Air India would have been different if Menon had been allowed to remain in service for the 42 months that he was originally supposed to serve.
In fact, he had himself admitted that a “big job” lay ahead of him. But he also felt that the 42-month tenure would hopefully be enough to implement ideas that would help change the image of the airline.
Alas, it was not to be.