The name Tony Fernandes certainly needs no introduction. Now a Datuk Seri and often synonym with Malaysia’s most successful aviation company, AirAsia, Tony is credited with his maverick effort in turning a failure-bound government linked airline into a multi-billion dollar, worldwide known company as we know today.
Earlier this year, Tony was named as the Masterclass Global CEO of the Year at the Malaysia Business Leadership Award 2010, one of the many accolades he has received along his journey in the world of entrepreneurship. In 2007, Forbes named Tony Fernandes as the 24th richest man in Malaysia with an estimate net worth of US$230 million.
What makes Tony Fernandes a very successful entrepreneur, and how can we people learn a thing or two about some things that make him tick? Let’s see some of the key points.
1. Be a high Flyer
Long before his serious entrepreneurship venture, Tony had already had a very successful career with his employers he worked for. Upon his graduation from the London School of Economics (LSE), Tony was hired as a financial auditor for Virgin Atlantic, before taking a job as the financial controller for Virgin Record. Richard Branson was his boss.
Later Tony returned to Malaysia to work with another music company, Warner Music. He was a young and promising young executive who was considered an invaluable asset to his company. By the time he was 27, Tony Fernandes achieved what an ordinary 27-year old chap would not do – holding a position as the Managing Director – the youngest MD for the company.
Realizing that he is someone who can excel at every challenge and catch everything thrown at him, Tony needed new challenges. He knew taking over AirAsia, alongside with its debts amounting to RM40 million, would be seemed as crazy. But this is the thing that pumped up his adrenaline.
2. Dream big
Most people would think building a company as big as AirAsia would be as good as a job done. It seems like an unassailable glory. But Tony was having none of it. He was hungry for more. He aimed for bigger triumph. The next thing we know, the world’s first long haul airline, AirAsia X, was launched. Within a year after its flight to London and Australia, AirAsia X made name in the history book after being named as the world’s Best Newcomer in the 2008 Budgies Award in London.
Apart from aviation, Tony’s hand is also itchy with a few other ventures that include Tune Hotels, Tune Money and Lotus F1 racing team. He was once involved in the take over talk of the West Ham football club.
3. Have great mentor
Every successful man has a great mentor. Tony also has one. His mentor – his former boss, Richard Branson. Shifting from Warner Music to AirAsia, Tony followed almost every step of Richard, when the former, out of the blue, decided to branch Virgin into an airline business.
The two also had another thing in common. Neither of them has any knowledge of the aviation industry and how the airline business model works. The mentor-ship later turned into casual relationship and eventually business partnership. It was through Richard Branson’s funding that allowed AirAsia X to go off the ground.
4. Dare to take on the big guns
With his goals embedded back in his mind, Tony embarked on a very challenging journey, poised to take on everything and everyone that comes along. Many a time, and often against the odd, he was put into the uncomfortable situation of messing around with Malaysia’s number one airline, Malaysia Airlines (MAS).
At one time, both companies featured their ads in the television almost on the same days of each other’s ad, depicting ‘the great Blue vs Red battle’. Tony told in his book that he was once asked by the then Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, “Why are you so gloomy today. Is it because of MAS?”
Also, despite tough stance from neighbouring countries including Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, Tony persevered to fight for for open skies agreement between the nations.
5. Personal branding
Almost every time we see Tony Fernandes – on the TV, print media and outdoor, we’ll see him wearing a cap with the ‘AirAsia’ name clearly printed on it. Simply put, Tony is the living ambassador of AirAsia. Tony has a very likable and down to earth personality, and his excellent communication and PR approach make him one of the most admirable business personalities in the country. He likes being hands on and be close with people. He blogs, he tweets and he updates his facebook page.
Someone like Tony Fernandes is indeed a rare breed. He would be remembered among those remarkable entrepreneurs who have changed the course of Malaysia corporate scene and the entrepreneurship world.
Imagine if we have more people like Tony Fernandes in Malaysia, and what kind of changes they bring to the world.