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 six countries serving some 320 routes to more than 150 destinations across Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the US.
AirAsia has been named the World’s Best Low-Cost Airline at the annual Skytrax World Airline Awards 11 times in a row from 2009 to 2019. AirAsia was also awarded World’s Leading Low-Cost Airline for the sixth consecutive year at the 2018 World Travel Awards, where it also won the World’s Leading Low-Cost Airline Cabin Crew award for a second straight year.
Fernandes studied 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 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 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.