Tony Fernandes, founder of Tune Group, is the Group CEO of Air Asia, Asia’s leading low fare, no frills airline, flying to destinations across the region. Known as the Richard Branson of Asian air travel, he turned the bankrupt carrier into the World’s Best Low-Cost Airline (Skytrax’s coveted award for five years in a row 2009-2013) and has revolutionised the aviation industry in Asean.
Tony is CNBC’s Asia Innovator of the Year 2013, winner of GQ India’s International Businessman of the Year 2012, and the Malaysian Investor Relations Association’s Best CEO for Investor Relations – Mid Cap for 2012. In 2011 he was named Panglima Setia Mahkota (Commander of the Order of the Crown of Malaysia), which carries the title “Tan Sri”, one of Malaysia’s highest honours, and in that same year, was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services in promoting commercial and educational links between the UK and Malaysia.
After graduating from the London School of Economics in 1987, he worked as an accountant for Richard Branson’s Virgin Records from 1987 to 1989. Upon his return to Malaysia, the amateur guitarist went on to become the youngest-ever managing director of Southeast Asia for Warner Music Group (Malaysia), and subsequently became vice-president in 1992-2001. In a dramatic change of direction, Tony left the music industry to buy Air Asia, a failing government-linked commercial airline with debts 40 million ringgit, at the token fee of one ringgit (US$0.25), turning it into a highly successful budget airline public-listed company.
Coming just after the 11 September 2001, undoubtedly the worst day in the history of commercial aviation when nobody wanted to fly, everyone predicted that the company would fail miserably. Yet, just one year after his takeover, AirAsia had broken even and cleared all its debts. Its initial public offering (IPO) in November 2004 was oversubscribed by 130 per cent.
Introducing AirAsia to Malaysians with the tagline “Now everyone can fly”, Tony thinks that about 50 per cent of the travellers on Asia’s budget airlines are first-time flyers. Before AirAsia, he estimates that only six per cent of Malaysians had ever travelled in a plane. Tony was also instrumental in lobbying the then-Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in mid-2003, to propose the idea of open skies agreements with neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. As a result, these nations have granted landing rights to AirAsia and other discount carriers.
From its birth in Malaysia, AirAsia has now grown into a regional airline group that includes the short-haul carriers AirAsia Malaysia, AirAsia Thailand, AirAsia Indonesia, AirAsia Philippines and AirAsia Japan; the long-haul carrier AirAsia X; and the new regional base AirAsia asean. AirAsia asean, officially launched in August 2012 and located in Jakarta, is entrusted with crafting group-wide strategies and polices. AirAsia Group flies more than 150 routes to 89 destinations, 57 of which are in ASEAN and the rest in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Australia. AirAsia provides employment for 10,000 people from across the region and beyond.
Under Tune Group, in 2007, Tony again created a “first” in Asia by starting a hotel chain, Tune Hotels, based on the no-frills concept. The first Tune Hotel was opened in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, and now has 26 Tune Hotels in operation across Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and UK.
As of 2009, Tony became the president of the ABL (Asian Basketball League), the only professional regional basketball league in ASEAN, run by Tune Sports. Tune Group also invested in Caterham F1 Team (formerly Lotus Racing F1 Team) in 2009, to provide an avenue for the youth in ASEAN to advance in the global sports scene. They created a team which registered the best performance among all F1 newcomers in 2010 and it was renamed Caterham F1 Team in late 2011. Tune Group has also set up Tune Money (a financial services company), Tune Tones (which engages in media and creative industry projects and promotes local and international talent) and Tune Talk (which provides affordable mobile phone services in all 10 ASEAN countries.
In August 2010, Tony officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony of Epsom College in Malaysia. A product of Epsom College in the UK, he has taken a special interest in offering world-class education, with emphasis on holistic development and invested in the establishment of an Epsom school in Malaysia. The school is being completed inside the 50-acre Kuala Lumpur Education City, and will open in September 2013, with Tony as chairman of the Board of Governors.
“Tony was outstanding. He made a strong impression on the audience. I have not yet seen so many people flocking around a speaker after their session.” MTN