File photo of AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Tony Fernandes has never been one to dwell on protocol. After all, the AirAsia chief shook up aviation with a disruptive Malaysian budget carrier that challenged full-fare rivals across the region. Now, some of his LinkedIn followers say he crossed a line.

Readers excoriated Fernandes after he posted a picture of himself shirtless, receiving a massage as he sat at an office conference table and presided over a conference call.

"Got to love Indonesia and AirAsia culture that I can have a massage and do a management meeting," Fernandes said in the now-deleted post on his LinkedIn page. He said a female colleague had suggested the massage after what he termed a stressful week.

The post triggered a public backlash, with some commentators calling it inappropriate for an executive to indulge in bare-chested personal care while also purportedly running the company.

Rebecca Nadillo, a strategy and branding executive with previous stints at Meta and ad agency BBDO, was among the followers who criticised Fernandes.

"I don't think the women in your company would feel comfortable or safe in this context, and given you're the boss, they likely won't challenge you or say anything," she wrote.

Hers was one of about 100 responses, many echoing Nadillo, urging Fernandes to clean up what they judged to be a personal misstep.

Fernandes said he'd just endured an 18-hour flight and was in pain, and that the massage was a spontaneous suggestion by somebody in the Indonesia operation.

"You can never really explain the thought process behind a post, so I deleted it," he said in response to a request for comment. "I didn't mean to offend anyone."

Some readers went in for humor. A handful praised the CEO for having the courage to display his naked chest in public.

"I applaud this brave man for being an agent of change in the body positivity movement," read one submission. "We should celebrate all body shapes and sizes!"