Malaysia Airlines has been the national carrier of Malaysia even before the nation
was formed. Incorporated in 1937 and welcoming its first passengers in 1947 as
Malayan Airways Limited, the airline has carried Malaysians all across the world for
the last 74 years, powered by everyday people who work hard to help their
Full of extraordinary and talented people, one notable person, in particular, stands
out, with a long, colourful history with the airline from the tender age of 24. Sharmini
Ratnasingam, affectionately known as Sharm by those she works with, is a warm
and lovely lady. As a senior manager of Culture and Engagement at Malaysia
Aviation Group (MAG), I had the opportunity and pleasure to speak with her recently
and share her amazing 34-year love story with Malaysia Airlines.
Born and raised in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Sharm was constantly immersed in the
arts. Attributing her creative side to her mother, her personality was tempered by her
father’s belief in life and its existence. Based on her parents’ nature and nurture,
while disciplined and strict, put her on the right path, allowing her to debate her point
of view and make well-informed decisions.
Her career in MAS started as a musician, an interest that stemmed from her
schooling days. She was a professional trombonist (the 1st female in Malaysia) with
several local orchestras. In her airline role, she spent most of the week working on
her craft and passion. Four days were dedicated to music and two days to office
work. As part o the Malaysia Airlines Orchestra, she represented the company and
country in numerous corporate and government events. Her most memorable was
performing in Phnom Pehn for the birthday of the then reinstated Ruler of
Cambodian, Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
Since the transition from being a musician to a complete corporate professional, she
has immersed herself and specialised in service quality and strategy works, including
significant projects like Oneworld. That did not stop her from continuing to pursue her
musical passion outside of work. She double hats as a performer and Executive
Producer for a contemporary gamelan group, Rhythm In Bronze.
In 2015 with the transition to Malaysia Aviation Group, Sharm moved onto the
human side of the airline and joined the Culture and Engagement Office. This new
portfolio was unique in the industry. It was an opportunity to create and define
something new that intrigued Sharm.
“In the early days, we were inspired by other airlines who were going through the
same journey as us like Japan Airlines (JAL) to navigate us to set the parameters of
the culture we vision despite its many challenges.” she shared.
A unique role that required an in-depth understanding of the airline at its core, the
role of bringing it to life could not be done with the help of a consultant. Instead, it
would require expertise, experience and empathy from the people who had been
steeped in the culture, like Sharmini.
The goal of the Culture and Engagement team was to rebuild the brand and turn
around the company to be profitable again by shifting the mindset of “playing not to
lose” to “playing to win”. Working towards creating a better organisation and
enriching the lives of her fellow staff, it was not hard to see that music was an
integral factor in her management style. Almost like conducting an orchestra, Sharm
worked intently on finding new and innovative ways to create a “Powerful Purpose”,
as she calls it, to move hearts and mobilise the workforce through the power of
In gripping with the COVID-19 pandemic, which could throw even the best off their
groove, Sharm has made the best of the situation, becoming a self-professed
learning junkie and has signed up for various opportunities to educate and upskill
After more than three decades with the airline, Sharmini has built up an impressive
and diverse career, spanning multiple different areas from Communication,
Research, Corporate Planning, Change Management to Culture and Engagement.
Speaking on the discussion of women in aviation and industry gender balance,
Sharmini feels that the gap is way too wide and the ceilings way too low on a global
scale. It will take significant time and effort to narrow the gaps of gender and
diversity further. However, in MAG, especially in the corporate areas, she shared
that women have surpassed and exceeded global averages due to gender balance,
which is of utmost importance. The WiAA Project hopes to engage with many more
women in their employment to highlight them and their roles.
Sharmini is happy to see that the younger generation coming up today are much
more open in discovering themselves, making the task of encouraging them to
venture into careers and futures they want much more manageable. She hopes that
with joint efforts and initiatives by NGO’s. Companies, and governments, more
women can be a part of the aviation industry.
Finally, she wanted to share one of her favourite quotes, by Peter Drucker, “Your first
and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your energy and then help to
orchestrate the energy of those around you”, which epitomises the methodology she
has employed in her career at MAG.
WiAA wishes Sharmini all the best in all her future undertakings and thank MAG for
the opportunity to dialogue with her and highlight her role in aviation.