Famed for buying debt and then building a company voted as the world’s best low-cost airline, Tony Fernandes had a captive audience when talking about his paths to success. Here are some of my notes from what he had to say:
He was sent overseas to study when he was 12 and found that he had to fend for himself from the time he arrived at Heathrow, and says “The great thing about being thrown into the deep end is you either sink or swim”. Even then his interests were music and F1 cars, and he has built those likes into businesses. When he wanted to come home during half-term, flying was too expensive to be affordable, so he set out to make it possible for ‘everyone to fly’. Air Asia was born from that and next Tony is determined to enable people in the Indian sub-continent to afford to fly cheaply instead of spending days travelling from one city to another. “You have only one life; live out your dream” he says.
Parents should not pre-program their their children, nor protect them, he says, and finds that Malaysians are risk-averse. To know whether you will succeed he believes one has to try. “Only the best will survive in an unprotected world – that’s what entrepreneurship is all about”. He states that Malaysians rely on the Government too much and people don’t want to do it for themselves. Air Asia did not rely on the Governments and Tony says that he hopes its successes will inspire others to do the same. “There are no short cuts in life. Remove the crutches” he said.
On how he builds human capital, he says he hires people with the right attitude and then gives them the opportunities to earn promotions. He cites a couple of his country CEO’s who were 1) a flight steward and 2) a recruiter whom Tony saw potential in. He also believes in succession-planning and that bosses should leave and allow the new person to be the boss. “Air Asia creates individuals, not clones” he says. “I have 10,000 brains working for me, not 10 brains at the top.” All his staff are encouraged to speak their minds.
To him, being global means making bold decisions, and to be global means to be competitive, ensure transparency, and be able to deal with criticism. When something is wrong, Tony says just change what is wrong – focus on survival and keep growing. He would like Air Asia to be known all over the world with global appeal, but remain Asian as its name says. I’ll write about the Air Asia branding in another article.