Tan Sri Anthony Francis Fernandes (better known as Tony Fernandes) is a well-known Malaysian entrepreneur who is famous for revolutionising the aviation industry through AirAsia. The low-cost airline, which was started in 2001, has come a long way. Today, it is Asia’s largest low-cost airline with over 120 destinations servicing over 220 million passengers. The AirAsia Group also owns 5 other businesses, namely AirAsia-Expedia, Asia Aviation Centre of Excellence, Asia Aviation Capital, T&Co Coffee, Travel 3Sixty as well as BigPay.
In 2014, Forbes Asia valued his net worth at USD 650 million, ranking him at #28 on the Forbes list of Malaysia’s richest. In 2007, Tony also started Tune Group, a conglomerate of hotel, telecommunication, financial services, sports, media and creative industries subsidiaries. It was also recently announced by Communications & Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo that AirAsia has sponsored RM 12 million for RTM’s live telecasts of FIFA World Cup. While we know many of AirAsia’s achievement, how much do we really know about Tony Fernandes?
A boy who dared to dream
Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1964, Tony was an ambitious child who dreamt of three things only: running an airline, owning an English football club and owning a Formula One racing team, all which he has managed to achieve (Tony owns Formula One racing team, bought British sports car manufacturer Caterham and soccer club Queens Park Rangers). While his father wanted him to become a doctor like him, the young Tony knew he is destined for other things. He left Malaysia at the age of 12 to study at Epsom College in Surrey, England. He then got his degree in Accounting from the London School of Economics.
Tony Fernandes has an appetite for risk
He started his career with Virgin Atlantic as an auditor. After, he became the financial controller for Richard Branson’s Virgin Communications from 1987 to 1989 before joining Warner Music International London as a Senior Financial Analyst. In 1992, he came back to Malaysia and was appointed as the managing director of Warner Music, Malaysia. Right after the US 9/11 terror attack, Tony saw an opportunity to move into the uncertain world of the airline industry.
Marketing has always been in his blood
His late mother ran a successful direct-selling Tupperware business and at a young age, Tony would follow her to Tupperware parties. Today, he is best known to invest and excel in marketing. He believes that if you have a great product, but no one knows about it, it’s history. His way of method? Digital technology. Tony was best known to be one of the first CEOs to harness the power of social media networks to sell tickets and market his airline.
How he managed to buy AirAsia for RM1 in 2001.
Many are familiar with this statement, but none truly knows how it is possible. Then Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had heard of Tony’s dream to start an airline. He advised him to just buy the heavily in-debt, government-linked AirAsia in 2001. Although the company was sold for RM 1, it came with a RM 40 Million debt. For that, Fernandes actually mortgaged his house and took out his personal savings. Without any airline experience, he had to manage 200 employees and work around two ageing Boeing 737 aircraft. Despite all the disadvantages, Tony was determined to turn the unprofitable and small airline company around. Within a year, the company managed to break even and during its second year, AirAsia was producing a profit. But it took him another seven years to consciously and consistently build up the AirAsia brand name and logo as distinct and internationally known. 17 years later, he is the living testament of “nothing is impossible to achieve as long as there is determination” statement.
Beyond its tagline “Now Everyone Can Fly”
When Tony built AirAsia, he also built a dynamic corporate culture. “In AirAsia, we consider ourselves basically a dream factory. We deliberately decided that we wanted a company where people can pursue their passion and we wanted to make use of all the talent that we have in-house. The culture that we have stems from the fact that we want openness and we want people to be creative and passionate about what they do. In order to do that, we’ve got to inspire them.” And this is also the reason why Tony only hires people with passion.