KUALA LUMPUR – Sixteen years after AirAsia took to the skies in January 2002, and its tremendous success since, its co-founders Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun are not ready to retire.
Despite persistent speculation about their potential retirement, they are not ready to call it quits.
In fact, Fernandes told The Edge: “We’re not ready to hang our caps up just yet … I’m excited. I’ve got a lot of things to do.”
He added: “Look, if I’m hit by a bus tomorrow, the company will carry on for sure, it is in a good position.”
Fernandes pointed to the airline group’s latest annual report for a full list of the next line of leadership, saying a succession plan had been worked out.
More than 50 names are listed in the senior management team in the report.
Asked for some key names by The Edge, Fernandes pointed to deputy group CEO Bo Lingam, CEO Aireen Omar and AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail as among the possibilities.
But, Fernandes does not feel that the second-liners are ready to take over yet. He said: “There is some stuff that requires people like me and Kamarudin to drive through because we’re in the best position to do it.”
One of these is consolidating AirAsia’s various associates across Southeast Asia into a single listed Asean entity – called One AirAsia.
Fernandes wants to create a single economic unit for investors. At present, Malaysia-listed AirAsia Bhd is the de facto parent company that holds associate stakes in other regional sister companies.
This is mainly due to foreign ownership rules across Southeast Asian countries that bar foreigners from owning majority stakes in local airlines.
Fernandes feels this limitation undervalues AirAsia as investors are not truly exposed to the group’s entire growth in the region.
“Asean has 700 million people. Wouldn’t investors want to invest in that asset class as well? My dream is for AirAsia group to own 100% of all (AirAsia’s) Asean airlines. I’m hoping by that time, there will be an Asean stock market (for the group),” he was quoted as saying.
The first step is to create a holding entity and then de-consolidate AirAsia Malaysia from it to clarify the group structure. The aim is to eventually have the group entity wholly own all of AirAsia’s Asean airlines.
While the foreign shareholding cap across the region was a huge hurdle, Fernandes told The Edge he was “optimistic” the tide might slowly be turning.
For instance, in February, Thailand approved a bill that relaxes a longstanding requirement for local airlines to be 51%-owned by local shareholders. Fernandes says AirAsia is continuously lobbying other governments on the matter.
“The company is at a crucial stage – it is a hugely undervalued stock and it is a hugely misunderstood stock because we have been pioneering many things. I want to complete that journey and hand over a solid One AirAsia company to the next leadership,” he told The Edge.
Running parallel to the One AirAsia pursuit is the group’s push to list its Indonesian and Philippine associate airlines.
Fernandes told The Edge that Indonesia AirAsia might be listed by the end of this year, while Philippines AirAsia might be listed in the first quarter of 2018.