How the internet saved AirAsia: Tony Fernandes shares lessons from a life in business

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Nearly two decades ago, low-cost airlines barely existed. Today, they account for more than half of total capacity in Southeast Asia, allowing many people to fly for the first time. This boom can be traced back to one charismatic businessman: Anthony Fernandes, better known as Tony.

A former Warner Music executive, Fernandes bought then-ailing AirAsia from the Malaysian government for RM 1 in 2001 and turned it into Asia’s first low-cost airline.

From a company with only two jets, 250 employees, and millions of dollars in debt, he has flown AirAsia to new heights – today, it has 220 planes, employs 20,000 people, and carries 65 million passengers annually. AirAsia has been named the world’s top budget airline for eight consecutive years and this year, it became the first such to get US authorities’ green light to fly to American airports.

It wasn’t a smooth journey. During a recent fireside chat with Catcha Group CEO Patrick Grove, Fernandes shared some of the valuable lessons he learned along the way.


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