One of Asia’s most recognisable entrepreneurs, Tony Fernandes is best known for co-founding AirAsia, the region’s first low-cost airline, with Datuk Kamarudin Meranun.
Fernandes and Datuk Kamarudin famously bought the ailing airline for a token MYR1 (approximately USD0.25) and MYR40 million in debt, turning it around within two years and growing it from a Malaysian domestic carrier into Asia’s largest low-cost carrier by passengers carried, with operations in five countries serving some 260 routes to more than 120 destinations across Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the Middle East and the US.
AirAsia has been named Skytrax World’s Best Low-Cost Airline nine years in a row from 2009 to 2017 as well as the World Travel Awards World’s Leading Low-Cost Airline for four straight years from 2013 to 2016. The airline also won World’s Leading Inflight Service at the 2016 World Travel Awards Grand Final, beating a field of full-service carriers to become the first ever budget airline to secure the accolade.
Fernandes studied at Epsom College and the London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK, and qualified as an Associate Member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in 1991 and Fellow Member in 1996. An accountant by training, Fernandes began his career in Richard Branson’s Virgin Group before returning to Malaysia as Warner Music Group’s Vice President for Southeast Asia before venturing into the airline business.
Fernandes has received numerous honours and awards over the course of his career. These include the Honour of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire, conferred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2011, and the Commander of the Legion d’Honneur, awarded by the French government for his outstanding contributions towards the economy of France through the aviation industry.
In 2010, Fernandes was named Businessman of the Year by Forbes Asia – the first person from Malaysia and Asean to receive the honour – for democratising air travel and transforming AirAsia into a successful global brand. TIME Magazine included Tony Fernandes in the 2015 TIME 100 list, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world which included Chinese President Xi Jinping, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and hip-hop artist Kanye West. In 2016, Fernandes was recognised by the US-Asean Business Council with the Fourth Pillar Award for his extraordinary contribution towards the growth of Asean, the second recipient of the award after the Administration of US President Barack Obama.
In 2017, Fernandes published an autobiography Flying High, which recounts his journey from a young boy growing in Malaysia to a British boarding school student with a tuck box full of dreams, all the way to his time at Warner Music and finally as AirAsia Group CEO.
Fernandes is also a board member of AirAsia X Berhad and Tune Protect Group Berhad. He was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia in 2001, before being redesignated as a Non- Independent Non-Executive Director and Group Chief Executive Officer on 6 November 2013.