Tony Fernandes (s. 30 April 1964) is a Malaysian entrepreneur. He is the founder of Tune Air Sdn. Bhd., who introduced the first budget no-frills airline, AirAsia, to Malaysians with the tagline "Now everyone can fly". Fernandes managed to turn AirAsia, a failing government-linked commercial airline, into a highly successful budget airline public-listed company. He has since founded the Tune Group of companies. He is also the majority shareholder of Queens Park Rangers Football Club.
He was also instrumental in lobbying the then-Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in mid-2003, to propose the idea of open skies agreements with neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. As a result, these nations have granted landing rights to AirAsia and other discount carriers.
As of February 2014, Forbes Asia valued Fernandes' net worth at $650 million, ranking him at number 28 on the Forbes list of Malaysia's Richest.
He is also an Overseas Citizen of India, owing to his partial Indian ancestry.
Early life and education
Fernandes was born in Kuala Lumpur on 30 April 1964 to a Goan father and a mother of mixed Indian (Tamil) and Asian-Portuguese (Kristang) descent who had been raised in Malacca, Malaysia. At a young age, he would follow his mother who sold Tupperware at Tupperware parties.
He was educated at The Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur. Starting at age 12, from 1976 to 1983, he studied at Epsom College boarding school in England. He matriculated to the London School of Economics and graduated with a degree in accounting.
He worked very briefly with Virgin Atlantic as an auditor, subsequently becoming the financial controller for Richard Branson's Virgin Communications in London from 1987 to 1989 before he joined Warner Music International London as Senior Financial Analyst.
Fernandes was admitted as Associate Member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in 1991 and became Fellow Member in 1996. He is currently a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
Fernandes was formerly a Warner Music executive in Malaysia, and Vice President, ASEAN at Warner Music South East Asia from December 1999 to July 2001.
When Time Warner announced its merger with America Online, Fernandes left to pursue his dream of starting a budget no-frills airline.
In September 2001, Fernandes purchased AirAsia and became its chief executive.
It was through Datuk Pahamin A. Rejab, the former secretary-general of the Malaysian Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry that Fernandes came to meet with then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in October 2001.
Instead of starting from scratch, Mahathir advised Fernandes to buy an existing airline. AirAsia, the heavily indebted subsidiary of the Malaysian government-owned conglomerate, DRB-Hicom, was losing money. Fernandes mortgaged his home and used his personal savings to acquire the company, comprising two Boeing 737-300 jet aircraft and debts of US$11 million (RM40 million), for one ringgit (about 26 US cents), and transformed it into an industry player. One year after his takeover, AirAsia had broken even and cleared all its debts. Its initial public offering (IPO) in November 2004 was oversubscribed by 130 per cent.
Fernandes says his timing was in fact perfect: after the 11 September 2001 attacks at New York City and Washington, D.C., aircraft leasing costs fell 40%. Also, airline lay-offs meant experienced staff were readily available. He believed Malaysian travellers would embrace a cut-rate air service that would save them time and money, especially in a tight economy. Fernandes estimates about 50 per cent of the travellers on Asia’s budget airlines are first-time flyers. Before the advent of AirAsia, he estimated that only six per cent of Malaysians had ever travelled by air.
Fernandes' biggest achievement was to open up countries within the region to new budget carriers, which previously did not have open-skies agreements. As a result of Fernandes' lobbying in mid-2003, Dr Mahathir brought up the idea with leaders from neighbouring countries. Those nations subsequently granted landing rights to AirAsia and other discount carriers.
In Thailand and Indonesia, AirAsia holds a minority stake in the respective local companies. Thai AirAsia, a joint venture with Shin Corporation, Thailand’s largest telecommunication conglomerate, took to the skies in Feb 2004 and has to date carried over 1 million passengers in its first year of operations. PT Awair, re-launched as a low fare airline on 8 December 2004 and subsequently renamed Indonesia AirAsia, presently serves 5 domestic destinations in Indonesia.
In 2018 Fernandes announced that more low-cost carrier terminals would be developed, and confirmed that while AirAsia needed new planes, he had not yet decided on an aircraft manufacturer.
Fernandes’ plans to expand include bidding on the operations and maintenance contract for Clark International Airport in the Philippines.
In February 2020, Fernandes step aside as CEO of AirAsia as Airbus bribery allegations probed. A month later, Fernandes was reinstated as CEO of AirAsia after the Airbus bribery allegations probe was cleared by Britain's Serious Fraud Office of any wrongdoing.
In 2007, Fernandes started a hotel chain, Tune Hotels, based on the no frills concept. It has properties in Britain, Australia and the Far East.
In March 2012, he served on the International Advisory Board of Global March to Jerusalem, which aims to "mobilize the international community in solidarity with Palestinians and to protect Jerusalem." A joint statement was issued, signed by the various members of the Board, including Fernandes.
In 2013, he hosted The Apprentice Asia, the Asian spin-off of the reality game show The Apprentice, in which a group of aspiring young businessmen and women compete for the chance to work with Fernandes.
In 2018, he was named the head of Malaysia Stadium Corporation (MSC) by the Malaysian Youth and Sports Ministry.
Fernandes was the founder of the Caterham F1 Formula One team, which began racing in 2010 as Lotus Racing and raced in 2011 as Team Lotus. On 2 July 2014, Caterham F1 was sold to a Swiss and Middle Eastern consortium.
On 16 December 2009, Fernandes accepted a "challenge" from Richard Branson, a fellow airline boss and the owner of Lotus' fellow F1 newcomers Virgin Racing. The losing team's boss would work on the winner's airline for a day dressed as a stewardess. Fernandes joked "The sexier the better. Our passengers will be delighted to be served by a Knight of the Realm, but knowing Richard, the real challenge will be to prevent him from asking our guests 'coffee, tea or me?' That would be scary." In addition, the team produced a poster depicting Branson in an Air Asia uniform. However, the date of the flight was delayed several times: first because of Branson breaking his leg, then because of the royal wedding, finally because of a fire at the Necker Island. On 19 December 2012, Fernandes announced that Branson would honour his bet in May 2013. Branson ultimately honoured the bet on 13 May 2013.
Caterham Racing, also created by Fernandes, competes in the GP2 Series.
On 27 April 2011, Fernandes announced that his company had purchased Caterham Cars.