IN 2018, TONY FERNANDES WANTS TO BE ASEAN’S REGIONAL MAN & SHIFT HIS BASE FROM INDONESIA TO THAILAND

FILE - In an Aug. 11, 2014 file photo, AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Fernandes is more than just the CEO of AirAsia: He's the brash personality and cheerleader-like figure who gives the discount carrier its soul. A flamboyant executive who loves race cars and soccer - and is known for speaking his mind, sometimes inappropriately - Fernandes has opened air travel to millions who previously couldn’t afford it. Now, with one of his planes and 162 people onboard missing, Fernandes faces what he's calling his worst nightmare. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)

And for us Malaysians, he’s one of a kind and it’s an understatement to describe him as a role model. He’s much more and the trail that he has been blazing in turning AirAsia from nothing to winning the world’s best budget airline title for many years in a row could count as perhaps the eighth wonder of the world.

I know he’s someone whose time is always occupied with so many things and yet it warms my heart that he always has time to quickly respond to my WhatsApp messages no matter where he is, including while he was busy with his wedding preparations when he married his Korean wife in France in October.

We exchange notes regularly on current affairs and get into arguments sometimes, including on the airline industry for which he’s more than a proven expert with myself giving some independent views from the standpoint of a journalist.

Journalists by the nature of their work are often said to be the jack of all trades but master of none.

Tony can be very nice and rude at the same time depending on the cut-off points in his level of tolerance for some of the views that I have.

Some years ago I was invited together with Tony by a group of Malaysian students in the United Kingdom during their semester break to a forum at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

I spoke to them on media matters and Tony’s session after mine was most exhilarating to say the least.

He talked mostly about AirAsia, the ostensibly impossible dreams that he turned into reality and all that but what sticks in my mind to this day are the snippets from the Q&A session that followed.

One student wanted a free return ticket back to the UK via AirAsia X after his vacation.

Tony obliged by asking him to contact the airline and that he would ensure that the ticket would be issued.

Then a few others wanted the same thing too, but before one whole AirAsia X flight to Manchester could be filled up with these holidaying students, Tony put a stop to it.

“Come on, I’m not Barisan Nasional, Man,” he shouted tersely, to everyone’s laughter.

Another student came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea to make some money from the AirAsia icon.

“Tony, I want half of the cash you have in your wallet right now,” said the boy.

Tony took out his wallet and announced that he’s got RM400 and there was a thunderous applause as the student went up on stage to get his 200 bucks.

There was never a dull moment and Tony never fails to amaze when he’s holding court.

He was then asked about the out-of-the-box style of management that’s been making a phenomenal success out of AirAsia while our premium national carrier Malaysia Airlines till this day is still struggling despite multi-billion ringgit bail-outs with taxpayers’ money.

But the one story that’s the biggest take-away from the session with the students is a truly awesome one and a mirror of Tony to the core.

He told the students that as a hands-on CEO, he went one day to the luggage handling section of the airport terminal and observed one very hardworking lad who never seemed to take a break.

Tony spoke to the luggage handler who told him that he was a 20-year-old from Sibu, Sarawak.

All in the audience that day including me would have thought that it was the end of the boy’s story but it was not.

To our amazement, and to cut a long story short, Tony said he gave the boy a chance to be trained as a pilot.

Tony received a standing ovation when he proudly said: “This luggage boy is now flying one of my latest jets and earning a very good income.”

That’s Tony for you.

We can read all about Tony in his newly-released memoirs Flying High (My Story From AirAsia to QPR).
He lays down four of his business fundamentals and I will just cite one here.

Being someone with a background in the music industry before becoming the budget airline king, he writes: “Have a good product. If you use the music analogy, what’s the most important thing? It’s the song. You can have the greatest singer in the world but if it’s a crap song, it’s not going to get played. I always preferred to sign singer-songwriters because they could control their own destiny.”

Tony sent a WhatsApp message to me a few days ago that in the brand new year he wants to be the regional Asean man and move his base from Indonesia to Thailand.

So more is yet to come from this guy with the “Now Everyone Can Fly” mission.

Wishing all readers A Happy New Year.

– Sundaily

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