AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes In the Spotlight Following Missing Plane
How he got to run the airline and how he's dealing with his first crisis.
By SUSANNA KIM
December 29, 2014, 3:45 PM
• 7 min read
-- Rubbing shoulders with big names in the music and airline industries, the personal credo of AirAsia CEO Anthony "Tony" Fernandes is: "Believe the unbelievable. Dream the impossible. Never take no for an answer."
Fernandes, 50, had a long career in business before entering the airlines business. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to an Indian father and a mother of mixed descent, he went to a boarding school in England called Epsom College, then graduated from The London School of Economics and Political Science in 1987. His career stints include financial controller of Virgin Communications London before joining Warner Music International London. He moved up the latter to eventually become vice president of Warner Music South East Asia.
After AOL acquired Time Warner in 2000, Fernandes left and acquired the heavily indebted AirAsia, which at the time was a subsidiary of the Malaysian government-owned DRB-Hicom.
"We started in 2001 with two old aircraft, having bought the then loss making AirAsia from its Malaysian owner DRB-Hicom, for a token of MYR1 (USD0.25 cents) and MYR40 million (USD11 million) in debt," AirAsia's website states. "Born in the aftermath of 9/11 and coming through the global financial crisis, AirAsia has faced some of the most turbulent times in the airline industry."
Like other magnates, Fernandes, who is married with two children, makes headlines for bold statements. In 2009, he made a bet with Virgin Airlines boss Richard Branson over whose Formula 1 racing car team would finish higher and whoever lost would dress as cabin crew on the other's airline. Branson lost and served Fernandes for a day aboard an AirAsia plane years later.
"Tony used to work for Virgin and it's brilliant to see how he has built a thriving brand of his own. Sadly, he'll have have to carry on the airline without me, because he sacked me straight after the flight," Branson wrote at the time with posted photos.
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