By Denise A. Valdez, Reporter

PAL Holdings, Inc., operator of Philippine Airlines (PAL), has selected Gilbert F. Santa Maria as its new president and chief operating officer (COO).

Mr. Santa Maria officially took the reins of the flag carrier yesterday after the board of directors formalized his appointment in a meeting in Manila.

“We have a new president, Gilbert Santa Maria. The chairman ordered that the new president work with the vice chairman, yours truly, and then the whole corporate governance committee…,” PAL Vice Chairman Lucio K. Tan, Jr. told reporters after the meeting.

“From now on, it’s going to be those three bodies that will drive PAL to move forward,” he added.

Mr. Santa Maria, who was handpicked by PAL Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lucio C. Tan, brings with him 15 years’ experience in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. He replaced Jaime J. Bautista who retired last month. The Mindanaoan native, who was born in Butuan City and grew up in Cagayan De Oro, used to be the chief operating officer of DC-based IBEX Global Solutions PLC, and before that, of California-based IQ BackOffice, Inc.

In an interview with reporters after the PAL board meeting, Mr. Santa Maria said his priority coming into PAL will be “just maintaining the current quality of service… as well as profitability.”

“I’ve been speaking with the management, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said, noting he is used to moving from industry to industry.

“I’ve been across multiple industries, so I’m not intimidated by industry change. The flag carrier matters, that’s one of the reasons I took the job,” he added.

Aside from his BPO background, Mr. Santa Maria used to be part of independent private equity firm Argosy Partners as executive director and of Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines, Inc. as general manager.

Mr. Tan said in looking for a new president to lead PAL, one doesn’t have to be an “airline guy.”

“You just have to know how to manage people, and then make everybody work together. So he has a good background in management. He has managed a lot of companies, foreign and local,” the company’s vice chairman said, referring to Mr. Santa Maria.

For PAL Executive Vice-President and Chief Administrative Officer Vivienne K. Tan, who served as the company’s officer-in-charge after Mr. Bautista’s resignation in June, the entry of Mr. Santa Maria is “exciting” as his experience in the US is expected to contribute to the flag carrier.

“I guess the turnaround of Philippine Airlines will be a story that a lot of people would like to see… It went through several types of management and now we have a president that has proven a lot of successes,” she said.

PAL Holdings posted an attributable net loss of P838.17 million in the first quarter, 24.3% narrower from the same period last year, due to a growth in passenger volume in the three-month period.