“I had all sorts of dreams just like everyone else,” says Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AirAsia Group and founder of Tune Group Sdn Bhd when asked of how his career started off. “My father wanted me to be a doctor just like him but I was not keen on medicine as a profession. Then I decided to study to be an accountant and qualified as a chartered accountant. But I think all along I was just waiting to become an entrepreneur. That’s something I must have picked up from my mother. She launched Tupperware in Malaysia and was so good at the business. She could sell ice to an Eskimo!”
His experience while studying in London was the push that brought him to where he is today. Remembering how when he was studying in Epsom College, England, Tony says that because flights were expensive back then he didn’t get a chance to come back to Malaysia often nor did his parents visited him. “That was the moment I said to myself that one day I will own an airline and make sure that everyone can fly,” says Tony.
His early career days saw him keeping the books at Virgin Records. It was also where he met Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, which comprises more than 400 companies including the airline company Virgin Atlantic. Naturally, the English businessman was an inspiration to Tony whom he had the privilege to learn from before moving on to Warner Music and being put in charge of the Southeast Asia region.
" Believe the unbelievable, dream the impossible, never take no for an answer. "
It’s funny how it was during a flight itself where Tony would become even more motivated to pursue his dream of starting a low-cost airline. “I flew from New York to London and I watched an in-flight interview with Stelios, founder of low-cost airline easyJet. It was fascinating to see how people could fly from London to Barcelona or Paris for only about eight pounds. I was even more determined that this idea needs to be brought back to Malaysia,” shares Tony.
From that idea came the reality of getting things started. The story of how Tony – along with his partners – bought the ailing AirAsia for only RM1 has been told many times. What Tony wants everyone to know is also how perseverance was the key to the company’s success. “Everyone told us that we will definitely fail when we bought over AirAsia back in 2001. No one believed in us but that did not stop us from pushing on. We are glad that we did and we will continue to champion affordable travel for all,” says Tony.
The hard work has indeed paid off for not just Tony but also everyone in the AirAsia family (whom Tony refers to as AirAsia Allstars): The airline is the World’s Best Low Cost Airline for seven consecutive years and recently was acknowledged as the only low-cost airline to be recognised as Asia’s Leading Cabin Crew beating all other full-service carriers who were nominated at the World Travel Awards (Asia & Australasia) 2015.
If there is one thing Tony’s story proves it is that passion and believing in a dream are what will take your career far. Consider this fact: Tony didn’t even come from an aviation background but he still managed to turn AirAsia into a household name! “It all boils back down to how much do you want to reach your goals and dreams? As I always say, passion is key. Believe the unbelievable, dream the impossible, never take no for an answer. This is what I’ve been living with for many years and it has gotten me this far. Remember, passion is key. If you don’t have it, it will be difficult to get anything done. Passion drives you to achieve excellence, and with that, you will meet the right people who share the same passion and together, work towards the success of your goals,” Tony says.
" Passion drives you to achieve excellence, and with that, you will meet the right people who share the same passion and together, work towards the success of your goals. "
His parting advice to young graduates who hope to be as successful as him? Persistance, says Tony. “Know what you want, find your way to achieve it. It will never be easy; it has never been for me. But the rewards are worth it – AirAsia would not be where it is today if we gave up or gave in when times were tough.”
TONY’S RULES FOR SUCCESS
YOU DON'T NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING TO WIN
“I did not come from an aviation background and look where I am today. What you need is the right idea, have the passion for it and executing it well.”
PASSION IS KEY TO WIN
“Dreams do come true. Don’t worry about failure. If you have the passion, you will always find a way to resolve things.”
DON’T BE SCARED OF COMPLAINTS
“Treat complaint emails seriously. It’s free market research – people are writing in to you to give you feedback and tell you how to improve! Take it, learn from it, and improve – that’s how you win.”
GO TO THE GROUND
“You can cover two things when you go to the ground. First – you learn how to be an effective boss because you get real and relevant feedback from your staff. Secondly – that’s where you can discover talent. That’s where you go to empower your people and when you put your people first, they will in turn put the company first.”
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POTENTIAL OF YOUR STAFF
“Your biggest assets, besides your ideas, are your people – because at the end of the day, it is the people who will deliver your ideas.”