Tan Sri Tony Fernandes has been called many things — from a ‘no-frill CEO’ to downright ‘crook’.
“It’s unbelievable to hear what people have been calling me. An MP once called me ‘kucing kurap’ (ringworm-infested stray cat — an expression to denote the less desirable members of society),” said the co-founder and captain of the nation’s first low-cost carrier (LCC) AirAsia.
Ever the outspoken one, he quickly added: “The Japanese, however, chose me as one of the 100 most influential people in their country alongside two other only foreigners — Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs, and Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk.
“Don’t you think there’s something not right here,” he jokingly told thesundaypost. This year marks the 10th anniversary of AirAsia. What started as a two-plane airline a decade ago is now operating a fleet of more than 100 aircraft. But it has not come without challenges.
“There have been so many misconceptions. While I have no regret, I do wish I don’t have to fight so much for what I believe is right. There has been so much ‘blood’ with Malaysia Airlines …a nd now, with Malaysia Airports.“I know there are so many who want to hang me now,” he laughed.
Fernandes was in the news recently, venting his frustrations at Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd in the social media for raising airport taxes on passengers as well as aircraft landing and parking charges for airlines. Fernandes said while he’s not losing too much sleep over it, it was a shame AirAsia was always made out to be the villain.
“Perhaps along the lines I’ve been a poor communicator. Perhaps we are too different but it would’ve been nicer if people understood what we’d been trying to do, and supported us all the way instead of villifying us without even coming to see us and discuss.”
Nevertheless, Fernandes said there’s still much to do – like finding a successor. To him, it remains the company’s ultimate challenge.
“A good leader should know when to step down. If I’m a good leader, I’d go when I can be sure the new leader can run the company better. Only then I’d be considered successful.
“The question is who’s going to take over from me and Kamarudin (AirAsia’s co-founder and deputy chief) perhaps in the next five years? There has to be a new chief by then.
“Having said that, a great thing about AirAsia is that there’s lot of good and capable people here and in Thailand,” Fernandes disclosed.
But the man still has heaps on his plate right now.
“It would be a lie to say it’s easy. I’m sure Aziz Laikar, (AirAsia’s commercial and communications spokesperson) has nightmares trying to co-ordinate my time — plus I’m all over the world, making statements he knows nothing about.
“But you know what? Live life once. If I were hit by a bus tomorrow, I won’t complain – I had a great life. A Malaysian, growing up and then suddenly realising I own an airline, a football club and a Formula One racing team – unbelievable! It’s tough on my body, yes, but would I not repeat it? Definitely not – but I won’t change anything at al either,” he said.
Different ball game
Speaking of football clubs, Fernandes – who owns the English Premier League Club, Queen Park Rangers (QPR) – said he has plans for the fans here and Sabah.
“We want to put on record that AirAsia has done a lot for Sarawak all these years, and we can and want to do more. What I want is for people to approach and tell me about their problems, their ideas and so on. I’m planning to do this thing for QPR fans in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in the first week of January next year.”
Most likely, Fernandes hinted, he might bring QPR players here to meet the fans.
“Rather than bringing the players to Kuala Lumpur, I want to fly the team to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. I know AirAsia owes a lot to East Malaysia. As such, we want to say thank you.
“It would be great if we could do something different. I believe the QPR team would love Sarawak and Sabah,” he added.
With his journey almost reaching the end, 47-year-old Fernandes is happy he and the team have delivered a profitable airline alongside the right strategy and a few viable joint ventures.
“It’s quite sad really. Somebody told me in three years I would hit ‘Hawaiian Five-0’ but I never consider myself old.”
He said AirAsia wouldn’t be what it is today without the support of Sabah and Sarawak. “This is my first 10-year interview, and I believe it’s significant for me to speak to the people of Sarawak and Sabah. I’m the sort of person who never forgets anyone who has helped us. Don’t think for one minute AirAsia will ever abandon Sarawak and Sabah.
“Were only 10 years old. Imagine what we can do for Sarawak and Sabah over the next 10 years. Give us the support and we’ll do a lot more,” he added.
“If only the whole ofMalaysiawere likeSarawakandSabah, we’d have a better country.”