London: His motto is “dream the impossible” and some might have thought Tony Fernandes was doing just that when, as a child, he dreamed of establishing Asia’s first low-cost airline.
But as an adult, the Malaysian-born entrepreneur put into practice another of his personal maxims — “never take no for an answer” — and set about making that dream a reality.
However, he took some detours before starting his career in the aviation business.
After finishing his schooling at Epsom College, a boarding school in Surrey, he studied at the London School of Economics and qualified as a chartered accountant.
He subsequently launched himself into the music industry, moving from his role as financial controller of Virgin Communications to Warner Music International London in 1989, when he was still in his mid-20s.
He was promoted to managing director of Warner Music Malaysia in 1992 and to regional managing director of Warner Music South East Asia in 1996.
In 1999, he became the vice-president of Warner Music South East Asia.
But as the music industry struggled to cope with the challenges and opportunities presented by the internet, Fernandes decided it was time to make his move and start pursuing that childhood ambition.
In 2001, at the age of 37, he bought the heavily indebted Air Asia from a company owned by the Malaysian government for just 20 fils.
He had no experience in running an airline, but this did not deter him and he set about transforming the carrier into a short-haul low-cost airline in the mould of those recently established in the West.
In 2002, Air Asia had only two aircraft in the air, but under Fernandes the company expanded rapidly and by the end of the decade it was flying 30 million passengers around the world on 86 planes.
But the businessman did not stop at airlines. After entering F1 racing in 2010, buying a team called Lotus Racing (now called Caterham), the lifelong football fan became owner of Queen’s Park Rangers, the Premier League club, in 2011.
That same year, the entrepreneur from Kuala Lumpur was officially welcomed into the British establishment when he became a CBE, after receiving the award from the Queen.
Accompanying David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, on a tour of an Airbus wings factory in Broughton, North Wales, two years ago, after his airline had commissioned 100 more jets, Fernandes hinted that he had not finished dreaming. “One day, Air Asia would be as well-known as Coca Cola,” he said. “That would be cool.”