Tony Fer­nan­des never fails to amaze

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

I’D LIKE as my con­clud­ing col­umn for 2017 to share my thoughts on Tan Sri Tony Fer­nan­des, the group chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of AirAsia, some­one whom mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide truly ad­mire.

And for us Malaysians, he’s one of a kind and it’s an un­der­state­ment to de­scribe him as a role model. He’s much more and the trail that he has been blaz­ing in turn­ing AirAsia from noth­ing to win­ning the world’s best bud­get air­line ti­tle for many years in a row could count as per­haps the eighth won­der of the world.

I know he’s some­one whose time is al­ways oc­cu­pied with so many things and yet it warms my heart that he al­ways has time to quickly re­spond to my What­sApp mes­sages no mat­ter where he is, in­clud­ing while he was busy with his wed­ding prepa­ra­tions when he mar­ried his Korean wife in France in Oc­to­ber.

We ex­change notes reg­u­larly on cur­rent af­fairs and get into ar­gu­ments some­times, in­clud­ing on the air­line in­dus­try for which he’s more than a proven ex­pert with my­self giv­ing some in­de­pen­dent views from the stand­point of a jour­nal­ist.

Jour­nal­ists by the na­ture of their work are often said to be the jack of all trades but mas­ter of none.

Tony can be very nice and rude at the same time de­pend­ing on the cut-off points in his level of tol­er­ance for some of the views that I have.

Some years ago I was in­vited to­gether with Tony by a group of Malaysian stu­dents in the United King­dom dur­ing their semester break to a fo­rum at a ho­tel in Kuala Lumpur.

I spoke to them on me­dia mat­ters and Tony’s ses­sion af­ter mine was most ex­hil­a­rat­ing to say the least.

He talked mostly about AirAsia, the os­ten­si­bly im­pos­si­ble dreams that he turned into re­al­ity and all that but what sticks in my mind to this day are the snippets from the Q&A ses­sion that fol­lowed.

One stu­dent wanted a free re­turn ticket back to the UK via AirAsia X af­ter his va­ca­tion.

Tony obliged by ask­ing him to con­tact the air­line and that he would en­sure that the ticket would be is­sued.

Then a few oth­ers wanted the same thing too, but be­fore one whole AirAsia X flight to Manch­ester could be filled up with these hol­i­day­ing stu­dents, Tony put a stop to it.

“Come on, I’m not Barisan Na­sional, Man,” he shouted tersely, to every­one’s laugh­ter.

Another stu­dent came up with what he thought was a bril­liant idea to make some money from the AirAsia icon.

“Tony, I want half of the cash you have in your wal­let right now,” said the boy.

Tony took out his wal­let and an­nounced that he’s got RM400 and there was a thun­der­ous ap­plause as the stu­dent went up on stage to get his 200 bucks.

There was never a dull mo­ment and Tony never fails to amaze when he’s hold­ing court.

He was then asked about the out-of-the­box style of man­age­ment that’s been mak­ing a phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess out of AirAsia while our premium na­tional car­rier Malaysia Air­lines till this day is still strug­gling de­spite multi-bil­lion ring­git bail-outs with tax­pay­ers’ money.

But the one story that’s the big­gest take­away from the ses­sion with the stu­dents is a truly awe­some one and a mir­ror of Tony to the core.

He told the stu­dents that as a hands-on CEO, he went one day to the lug­gage han­dling sec­tion of the air­port ter­mi­nal and ob­served one very hard­work­ing lad who never seemed to take a break.

Tony spoke to the lug­gage han­dler who told him that he was a 20-year-old from Sibu, Sarawak.

All in the au­di­ence that day in­clud­ing me would have thought that it was the end of the boy’s story but it was not.

To our amaze­ment, and to cut a long story short, Tony said he gave the boy a chance to be trained as a pi­lot.

Tony re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion when he proudly said: “This lug­gage boy is now fly­ing one of my latest jets and earn­ing a very good in­come.” That’s Tony for you. We can read all about Tony in his new­lyre­leased mem­oirs Fly­ing High (My Story From AirAsia to QPR).

He lays down four of his busi­ness fun­da­men­tals and I will just cite one here.

Be­ing some­one with a back­ground in the mu­sic in­dus­try be­fore be­com­ing the bud­get air­line king, he writes: “Have a good prod­uct. If you use the mu­sic anal­ogy, what’s the most im­por­tant thing? It’s the song. You can have the greatest singer in the world but if it’s a crap song, it’s not go­ing to get played. I al­ways pre­ferred to sign singer-song­writ­ers be­cause they could con­trol their own des­tiny.”

Tony sent a What­sApp mes­sage to me a few days ago that in the brand new year he wants to be the re­gional Asean man and move his base from In­done­sia to Thai­land.

So more is yet to come from this guy with the “Now Every­one Can Fly” mis­sion.

Wish­ing all read­ers A Happy New Year.

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