£50m to learn some of foot­ball is im­moral!

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

QPR chair­man Tony Fer­nan­des spent much of last sum­mer host­ing Malaysia’s ver­sion of The Ap­pren­tice.

But if the 50-year-old’s fouryear flir­ta­tion with sport is any­thing to go by, he’s the one who should have been fired.

A self-made en­tre­pre­neur with a $650m for­tune, Fer­nan­des en­tered For­mula One in 2010 as the prin­ci­pal of Team Lo­tus, re­branded in 2011 as Caterham F1.

Four years and count­less mil­lions on, he has still to see his peren­nial back-mark­ers reg­is­ter a point.

Then, in 2011, Fer­nan­des bought Bernie Ec­cle­stone’s 66 per stake in QPR. Just pro­moted to the Pre­mier League un­der Neil Warnock, Fer­nan­des had vi­sions of us­ing his for­tune to turn Rangers into Euro­pean heavy­weights.

Un­for­tu­nately, agents saw him com­ing and de­manded top dol­lar for duds and has-beens and never-weres. The re­sult was a di­vided dress­ing room, wretched per­for­mances and rel­e­ga­tion from the Pre­mier League with £177m debts.

“Tony was new to foot­ball, and he took ad­vice from too many people who were try­ing to ma­nip­u­late him to make a buck,” says Warnock, sacked by Fer­nan­des in 2012 but still a good friend. “He ad­mits he’d do things dif­fer­ently if he had the chance again, but it was an ex­pen­sive les­son.”

It is an as­sess­ment Fer­nan­des is happy to ac­knowl­edge. “I think I al­lowed my­self to be ex­ploited,” he said in the wake of Rangers de­mo­tion.

Folly

“I was naive in think­ing that ev­ery­one was like me.You have a one-hour dis­cus­sion with a player and you think, ‘Yes, he’s go­ing to go out there and die for the club’, be­cause that’s what I would do.”

Fer­nan­des reck­ons the en­tire folly has cost him £50m. But while oth­ers would have walked away, the Malaysian has stuck around, ap­point­ing Harry Red­knapp and over­see­ing the trim­ming of a squad that is now on the verge of a re­turn to the top flight.

But hav­ing built an em­pire from a sin­gle plane, that kind of de­ter­mi­na­tion should per­haps comes as no sur­prise.

The son of an In­dian doc­tor, Fer­nan­des was packed off to board­ing school in Eng­land at the age of 12. “My fa­ther was a nut­case – he shoved me on the plane with a suit­case and £50 in my pocket,” he re­calls. “The school was like Borstal but I loved it.”

Friend­ship

A tal­ented sports­man, he then grad­u­ated from the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, ig­nor­ing his fa­thers’ de­mands to be­come a doc­tor to join Vir­gin Records.

Per­son­ally in­ter­viewed by Richard Bran­son, the pair struck up a friend­ship that has en­dured to this day. Iron­i­cally, Fer­nan­des de­parted when Bran­son elected to form an air­line, lit­tle re­al­is­ing that ten years later he would do the ex­act same thing.

In 2001, Fer­nan­des ac­quired Air Asia, then $100 mil­lion in debt, for 25 cents. “We had two planes, one des­ti­na­tion and 250 staff,” he re­calls. “And we have been through ev­ery calamity known to mankind – bird flu, tsunami, earthquake, ter­ror­ism, air­ports closed, coup d’etats. You name it, we’ve faced it.”

Yet to­day, Asia’s orig­i­nal low­cost air­line has 92 planes, 7,000 staff and a net in­come of $111m per an­num.

What’s more, tales of Fer­nan­des hands-on own­er­ship are leg­endary. Ev­ery worker, from the me­chan­ics to the pi­lots, has his per­sonal mo­bile num­ber.

In 2012, he gave the 263 staff who’d com­pleted ten years with the com­pany rare Swiss watches at a to­tal cost of £200,000.

Last year, hear­ing that typhoon Haiyan had struck the vil­lage of an em­ployee, he paid to rebuild their house. And when a stew­ardess told him she dreamed of be­ing a pi­lot, Fer­nan­des paid for her to at­tend classes, then em­ployed her when she passed.

Hon­est

“Deep down I’m a left wing kind of per­son and I think you can be a car­ing cap­i­tal­ist,” he said in 2011.

Per­haps that is why even those he has sacked refuse to stick the boot in.

“He was a great guy to work for,” said Mark Hughes, who suc­ceeded Warnock at Lof­tus Road. “He didn’t say one thing to the me­dia and an­other to me. He is an hon­est guy and he is very open.”

And it is that ex­pe­ri­ence in the air­line in­dus­try that has con­vinced Fer­nan­des that this time, the Pre­mier League and its hang­ers on won’t take him for a mug again.

“Was I suc­cess­ful in the air­line busi­ness on Day One?” he said. “No. But you learn. I have seen all the parts that make foot­ball quite im­moral, and we’re a much wiser group of people than we were two years ago.”

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