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Former Swissair executive gives film thumbs-up

Mölleney contemplates events as Swissair personnel chief. RDB

Swissair's former personnel chief tells swissinfo that a film detailing the last days of the airline before it went bust is a realistic interpretation of the facts.

Matthias Mölleney turned from advisor to actor on Grounding, as he relived events before he had to hand out thousands of redundancy notices in October 2001.

Mölleney plays a cameo role in the film that is out on general release in Switzerland on Thursday.

swissinfo: Does the film realistically portray actual events?

Matthias Mölleney: The things that people said and how they said them has been captured as realistically as they could have been.

The main problem for the director is that he had millions of bits of paper telling him what was said to whom. But he did not know if these things were said in an aggressive, depressed, positive or negative way.

I was able to tell him about the atmosphere and mood and he has done an amazing job of capturing the emotions.

swissinfo: How did the real events affect you emotionally?

M.M.: My personal role started when the film ends because someone had to dismiss all 9,000 employees and make the transfer of Swissair into Crossair possible.

It was extremely tough to work under these circumstances. There is a fundamental difference between deciding whether to give a company SFr500 million and sitting in front of people you know, and you know have families, and directly saying: “I have to dismiss you”.

There is an emotional difference that will remain part of my personal history.

swissinfo: Do you recall how the nation was affected at the time?

M.M.: The grounding of Swissair damaged the psyche of Switzerland. It was a collective shock.

If you had asked people three weeks before the grounding if Swissair would collapse they would have said: “No way, it will never die. A solution will be found.”

swissinfo: How did you land a role in the film?

M.M.: The film makers contacted all the people involved as part of their research. I was happy to help because it was not such a bad experience for me that I could not talk about it.

I was then invited to the set to see if they were capturing the atmosphere and the director invited me to play a role. I initially said no, but he eventually persuaded me to do it.

swissinfo: Did you enjoy being an actor?

M.M.: It was enjoyable in one way, but making films can also be quite boring, because it takes so much time. My scene lasts two minutes, but it took me two complete weekends to shoot it.

There is no way I will be starting an alternative career as an actor.

swissinfo: What happened to you after you left Swissair?

M.M.: I got a job at a medical device company called Centerpulse, but that was taken over by another company two years later and the entire executive board was sacked.

I then joined Unaxis, but the board got fired again after it was taken over last year.

In seven years I worked for three companies, nine chief executives and seven chairman, and lost my job three times. That’s what I call bad luck!

swissinfo: What does the future hold for you?

M.M.: I hope to start my own consultancy and training business.

swissinfo-interview: Matthew Allen in Zurich

Grounding is directed by Michael Steiner and produced by Peter-Christian Fueter, the duo who made last year’s award-winning hit film My Name Is Eugen.
Grounding charts the final months of Swissair’s existence after the appointment of former Nestlé finance chief Mario Corti in March 2001.
The film is based on fact, but is a dramatisation of the events with some fictitious characters.

Swissair planes were grounded on October 2, 2001 after 71 years in business.

The last Swissair plane touched down in Zurich from Buenos Aires on April 1, 2002 despite the Swiss government pumping in a SFr450 million bridging loan the previous October in a last-ditch attempt to keep the company afloat.

The remains of Swissair and the regional carrier Crossair were bundled together in 2002 to form the new national carrier Swiss, which was in turn taken over by Lufthansa last year.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR