Paul Aiello, STAR’s CEO designate who has taken over after the ouster of Michelle Guthrie, has an uphill task facing the people crisis in India. His series of interactions with STAR’s demoralised staffers became an eye opener to the overbearing attitude – some STAR insiders say bordering on the racist – of the former Hong Kong management.
On the other hand, he did succeed in assuaging ruffled sentiments and came across as modest and sincere, STAR sources said.
First hand reports from the Paul Aiello meetings said the outpourings against the former management’s handling of Indian officials turned into a virtual deluge. Senior STAR officials told Aiello that sneering comments like: "Is this the way you do it in India?" were not uncommon. Others said there were constant references to ‘You Indians’ from senior Hong Kong personnel when critical reviews were conducted.
The picture that emerged from these meetings, insiders said, was of a very battered STAR contingent chaffing from constant surveillance and interference by Hong Kong. Even Sameer Nair, who was hand-picked by Guthrie to head key India operations, was a disillusioned man within months of his appointment. "This is no way of handling things when India contributes 70 per cent of STAR’s revenue," one staffer said.
The James Murdoch era – son of Rupert Murdoch who headed STAR’s operations in Hong Kong before he took over B Sky B in London – is a study in contrast, STAR insiders said.
"At BSkyB James is a humble figure, even lining up in queue for his food in the canteen just like all the others. It shows breeding, unlike the heavy handedness we saw in recent months," a senior STAR official said.
Paul Aiello gave all this a careful hearing and is said to have responded with understanding. He said he would spend a long spell – possibly three months in India – to sort out ruffled feathers. He said there would be no element of racism in his administration. Proof: his wife is an ethnic Chinese.
Paul Aiello is obviously part of the ‘new’ management and came to STAR only in June 2006. He is not that new to STAR though. As a hard-nosed investment banker with Morgan Stanley he handled the STAR portfolio for providing strategic investment advice for over five years.
"Just hang in there," he is believed to have exhorted STAR’s disillusioned tribe. Whether they take him seriously or put in their papers, as many were planning to, will be seen in coming days.